My devotional reading today was from John’s gospel. Chapter four starts with Jesus meeting a woman at a well in a town in Samaria. I actually read the notes in my study Bible this time. They led me to this history of how the Jews came to disrespect Samaritans:
….every nation still made gods of its own and put them in the shrines of the high places that the people of Samaria had made …. They also worshiped the Lord and appointed from among themselves all sorts of people as priests of the high places, who sacrificed
for them in the shrines of the high places. So they worshiped the Lord but also served their own gods, after the manner of the nations from among whom they had been carried away. To this day they continue to practice their former customs. [1 Kings 17:24-41 NRSV]
So the woman at the well was a pantheist. Jesus is a Jew, one of the people who had been commanded, “You shall not worship other gods, but you shall worship the Lord your God; he will deliver you out of the hand of all your enemies.” When studying this story in a group a few years back, some of my Friends pointed out the context of this scene includes gender differences between Jesus and the woman. The explicit text of their conversation points out the ethnic and religious differences. Several times.
Once the woman understands that Jesus is a prophet, she brings up an essential one of those differences, “Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.” Jesus replies,
….the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth. [John 4:23 & 24]
Though less fractured than Palestine, my own religious group has differences in how we express and practice our faiths, how we worship and what we know about what we worship. As wide as between atheists and Evangelical Christians. The gap in my own local church is almost that wide. The gap in our geographic region certainly is.
Jesus spoke across such a difference, not only with this one woman, but for a couple of days with her whole town. He promises living water that will slake thirst for our lifetimes. He points toward worship in Spirit and in Truth.
But I get the message this morning that we won’t hear him if we cling to our comfortable formulas. The bible toting Christians and the non-theists each must be willing to give up our comfortable idols and be shaken out of established patterns.
My experience is that this takes a humble sort of courage. I can not cling to certainties from Biblical Truth. My brother in faith can’t cling strictly to visible scientific evidence. When we listen and open to each other we can find new water and new experiences of worship.