The woman said to him, “Sir, I can see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain; but you people say that the place to worship is in Jerusalem.” Jesus said to her, “Believe me, woman, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You people worship what you do not understand; we worship what we understand, because salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when true worshipers will worship the Father in Spirit and truth; and indeed the Father seeks such people to worship him. God is Spirit, and those who worship him must worship in Spirit and truth.” (John 4:19-24 NABRE)
In today’s passage we find Jesus talking to a Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well, where he’s stopped for a drink on his walk back from Judea to Galilee. They are nearing the end of their conversation, and she is seeking spiritual wisdom from him, not yet realizing that he is, in fact, the Messiah.
The woman is surprised that he would talk with her at all. Samaritans were despised by Jews for not following the customs of the law as the Jews believed they should. She brings up the issue of where sacrifices were to be offered; at the temple on Mt. Gerizim, or in Jerusalem. But despite her knowing that a Jewish man would disdain her, both for being a Samaritan and for her history with men, she seeks knowledge from him. She seeks truth. She wants to know what the right way to worship really is.
Jesus’ response is profound. He didn’t tell her which was the right place to worship. Quite the contrary; he talked about “true” worship. True worship is not about the rules of place and laws of behavior. Jesus points out that God is Spirit, and says that we are to worship in Spirit and truth.
Worshiping in Spirit is an action of union, in which the Holy Spirit implanted within us reaches up to join with the Spirit of the Trinity. It is experiential rather than cognitive. It is a matter of heart and will rather than of thought and reason. It is an act of opening and reaching rather than reading and preaching. When we worship in the Spirit we are erasing our own boundaries in order to better merge with God’s boundlessness.
This is not possible when we demand that worship take place on a particular site or be constrained by the pages of a book which sits in a guarded place on our nightstand, no matter how holy. To do so we have to acknowledge what Jesus told us; that the Father desires us to join with him, Spirit to Spirit.
Wordless, placeless, and without boundaries.