Thursday, March 31, 2016

Worship in the Name of the Father, and of the Truth, and of the Spirit

For this week's newspapers, I answered a question about what worship "in spirit and truth" means in John 4:23:

Q:  What does Jesus mean in John 4:23 when he says that “the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth”?

This is a statement of Jesus that has been called into service for a variety of agendas over the course of church history.  One of the most popular has been to suggest that worship should be heartfelt (thus “spirit”) and not rote memorization or following a set order.  Others have included the idea that a person might have a direct experience of God in worship as opposed to contact with God that comes through channels such as the Word and the Sacraments. 

These understandings of Jesus words seem only to come in English-speaking contexts, though, and are not typically found elsewhere, and they fail to recognize the circumstances under which Jesus makes the statement.  The Samaritan woman to whom Jesus is having the conversation has just brought up the question over whether one ought to worship God in the Jerusalem temple as the Jews do, or on various mountains as the Samaritans do. 

Jesus’ response is intended to redirect her question away from consideration of where is the right place to worship God under Old Testament law, and instead, toward the question of the identity of the God being worshipped.  In both alternatives that the woman presents, the proponents of that form of worship have both departed from the Truth and rejected the Spirit by proposing their own worship rather than that given by God.  For the Samaritans, it was mixing the name of the true God with ways of worship borrowed from idols.  For the religious leaders in Jerusalem, it was the belief that they could please God with their own good deeds and observance of the Ceremonial Law. 

Jesus answer uses an answer that reveals to her who the True God is because He names the Trinity by saying that the true worshippers will worship “The Father,” of whom Jesus is the Son.  They will do so “in Spirit,” that is, by the faith given by the Holy Spirit.  And they will do so in “Truth,” which Jesus reveals to be Himself throughout the Gospel of John, especially when He says later in John, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.”  

So in Jesus’ words, we have the Father, the Truth, and the Spirit.  It is reminiscent of the traditional ending of the prayers of the Church, “Through Jesus Christ, your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.”  True worshippers are those who acknowledge the Triune God, according to Jesus, and now that He has arrived, He tells the Samaritan woman that both Jerusalem and the mountaintops of Samaria are now irrelevant, because they both seek to worship a God who will someday come to save them, but that God is now standing before her, and will soon go forward to the cross and grave, from which he will rise and make both the temple and the Old Testament law obsolete. 

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