Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Where To Worship

Preaching through John has been one of my favorite experiences since I started teaching the Bible. The understated subtleties are genius. It’s a book that begs us to read it over and over again. It’s so simple that a child can benefit but it’s structure and subplots are so intricate that scholars are still trying to wrap their minds around all that is here. 

One of the little insights that struck me this past week is the way that Jesus rearranged the religious life of Israel. At our church, we are in the middle of the passage where Jesus tenderly yet firmly speaks to the serial fornicator, the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well. As Jesus begins to prod at her personal life, she quickly changes the subject to something more distant, to a theological debate. She was a Samaritan. Samaria was the capital of the Northern Kingdom (after the split under Rehoboam). They had been conquered in 722BC and many of the people deported. When that happens, immigrants from all over come to inhabit that area. They would eventually marry those Israelites who had been spared producing the “Samaritan” people. The full blooded Jews had a proud lineage and rejected these “half breeds.” The racial tension was intense between these groups. On top of that, the Samaritans had declared their own holy place to worship, Mt. Gerizim, while the “true” Jews to the South claimed Jerusalem (incidentally, they had the right place). 

After Jesus starts reading her mail, Mrs. Lady at the Well bails out of the personal stuff and wants to know about worship. A tactic we’ve all used at some point in conversation — when you don’t really want to talk about personal things. Jesus uses the opportunity to teach that worship isn’t about a place, because God is Spirit and you must worship in spirit and truth. Now that’s interesting. From Jacob’s well, Mt. Gerizim would be in sight. Why is this so significant? 

Just before this, Jesus had rearranged worship in Jerusalem as he cleared out the temple. In the process, he declares the days of the temple are numbered. He is the true temple where worship will take place. Now he goes to Samaria and does away with their holy place too.  The mission of Jesus runs contrary to the religious system of the day. Jesus was not validating one place over another for worship. He simply states they are both becoming obsolete. The place where man meets God is THE true temple, the person of Jesus Christ. 

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