4:19 The woman said to him, “Sir, I see that you are a prophet. 20 Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.”

21 Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22 You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 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.

Jesus has changed the game. And the woman at the well discerns that the conversation has shifted to a deeper level and is bold enough to follow Jesus’ lead.

For a Samaritan to look at a Jew and proclaim,

“Sir, I see that you are a prophet”

is a remarkable insight and a powerful acknowledgement of the Presence she has begun to sense in this Jewish stranger. The woman goes on to be even more bold. She raises what for her and her people, was an important and divisive question.

For Jews the only legitimate place to worship God “is in Jerusalem”. This was a huge dividing line between Jews and Samaritans. Because Samaritans were forbidden to travel to Jerusalem and were thus unable to worship in the temple, they had established a worship centre of their own on Mt. Gerizim in Samaria. To pious Jews this was an outrage.

The Samaritan woman must have experienced in Jesus a deep sense of acceptance and welcome to have had the courage to raise this contentious topic.

Jesus responds in the most radical way imaginable. He sweeps aside the whole idea of one specific geographical designation as the only authorized location for worship –

21 the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem… 23 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.

Worship is an inner practice. It is a movement of the heart, a matter of “spirit and truth”. True worship is not confined to specific locations, narrowly defined practices, particular belief systems, or ethnicity. As he will say to his disciples later in John’s Gospel, Jesus is pointing the Samaritan woman to the “Father’s house” in which “there are many dwelling places”.

How am I tempted to restrict my vision of how and where God can be at work?

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nb: see ADDENDUM to this reflection later today