But this man is not like all the others, and his words are a different sort of dynamite. He knows her life and sees through
her lies. She sees only problems but he sees potential. She mentions the law and social convention but Jesus talks about
the source of true satisfaction and the promise of eternal life. It’s one of those beautiful stories that say so much about Jesus: about his love, his grace, his forgiveness and his ability to see beyond our failings and foolishness. It’s a conversation that changes her life forever, and at the heart of it is a discussion about worship.
As Jesus and the woman talk, which is itself a pretty shocking statement – something amazing happens. Her life is a mess… A five-husband mess, a liar’s mess, a pushed-to-the-edge-of-society mess. But it’s the sort of mess from which something wonderful can be made.
“Sir,” the woman said, “I can see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.”
Instinctively the woman knows that all this potential for things to get better is tied up with the idea of worship. But to her mind worship is limited to certain places, bound up by certain rules, defined by certain structures.
Jesus corrects her :
“Woman,” Jesus replied, “believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jeru- salem.”
With Jesus comes great change. With Jesus lives get transformed, hope gets transformed, worship gets transformed. Nothing can ever be the same again, as Jesus explains:
“…a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks.”
We think we understand worship. When we hear about something amazing happening in a certain city we want to visit to be in on the action. When we hear a certain type of music that stirs our hearts we want to learn how to copy the sounds. When we hear of something new, we want to get the blueprints and learn how to do it ourselves
But Jesus says that we’re wrong to be so focused on places and rituals and formulae. True worship, he says, is about him. When- ever John uses the word ‘truth’ it is used to describe Jesus – his words, his actions, his ministry. The way John tells it, Jesus never lets us stray too far from the truth that the truest thing of all in this life is God himself. Not rituals or structures, not mountaintops or valley floors; God is the goal we must seek, and that’s what makes for true worship.
Sometimes we can think that worship is about the steps we take – the lifting of hands, the progression of chords, the arrival at the top of some musical mountaintop where we are left gasping for breath at the sheer beauty of the view. And, yes, it’s good to talk about production, to value our music and put effort into the Sunday morning mornings, but all of these are meaningless without the right heart behind them.
If we remember this one simple thing – that Jesus changed everything about how we worship – then maybe we’ll find that our worship itself will draw even more people to God. Maybe it’s time to come running down from the mountaintop.