Thursday, October 19, 2006

Canterbury Evening Prayer Reflection 3

Reflection on John 4:22-26

Today’s reading is a small part of the much longer account of the interaction between Jesus and the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s Well. The story in it’s entirety happens to be the longest dialogue recorded in the Gospels. In this story, Jesus and the Samaritan woman are discussing the Jewish and Samaritan faiths, which, while similar in many ways because they have the same roots, differ in some of the particulars. One of the key differences is that the Samaritans accepted only the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Hebrew Bible, as Scripture. From the Jewish perspective they had an incomplete picture of God” (O’Day, 568).

At the heart of today’s passage is the concept that true worship of God entails worshiping in Spirit and truth. Conceptually, this creates a conflict between the Samaritan woman and Jesus, a Jew. While not specifically discussed in the passage, they have differing interpretations of what worshiping in Spirit and truth means. The one thing they can agree on, however, is that a Messiah will come to bring salvation to the world and will reveal the truth. While the Samaritan woman believes that this will happen at some point in the future, Jesus knows differently. He informs the woman that the Messiah has already come, and that he, Jesus, is the Messiah. Looking at the entire story of salvation as portrayed in the Gospels, we see a paradox, however. “Salvation does originate from God’s own people, the Jews, but some Jews do not receive that offer of salvation in Jesus. For example, the offer of salvation made by Jesus (a Jew) has been rejected by the Jew Nicodemus but will be accepted by the Samaritans” (O’Day, 568).

To me, this paradox all boils down to the central concept of worship in Spirit and truth, on how various faith traditions interpret Spirit and truth. Biblical scholar and homiletics professor Gail O’Day notes that “Worship of God in spirit and truth does not point to an internal, spiritualized worship but to a form of worship that reflects and is shaped by the character of God” (O’Day, 568). As Christians, we are constantly attempting to discern what is Spirit and truth, what it means for us, and what it reveals to us about God and about our life as God’s children. In this respect, we are not so different from the Samaritan woman who seeks to understand Spirit and truth, and in a chance encounter, meets it face to face.


O’Day, Gail R. “The Gospel of John: Introduction, Commentary, and Reflection.” In Vol. IX of The New Interpreter’s Bible. Edited by Leander E. Keck, et al. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1995.

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