Letters & Numbers.

Now Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard that he was gaining and baptizing more disciples than John—although in fact it was not Jesus who baptized, but his disciples. So he left Judea and went back once more to Galilee.

Now he had to go through Samaria. So he came to a town in Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of ground Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well. It was about noon.

When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, “Will you give me a drink?” (His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.)

The Samaritan woman said to him, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.)

Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”

“Sir,” the woman said, “you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his livestock?”

Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.”

He told her, “Go, call your husband and come back.”

“I have no husband,” she replied.

Jesus said to her, “You are right when you say you have no husband. The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true.”

“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.”

“Woman,” Jesus replied, “believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. Yet 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. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.”

The woman said, “I know that Messiah” (called Christ) “is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.”

Then Jesus declared, “I, the one speaking to you—I am he.”

Just then his disciples returned and were surprised to find him talking with a woman. But no one asked, “What do you want?” or “Why are you talking with her?”

Then, leaving her water jar, the woman went back to the town and said to the people, “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Messiah?” They came out of the town and made their way toward him.

Meanwhile his disciples urged him, “Rabbi, eat something.”

But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you know nothing about.”

Then his disciples said to each other, “Could someone have brought him food?”

“My food,” said Jesus, “is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work. Don’t you have a saying, ‘It’s still four months until harvest’? I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest. Even now the one who reaps draws a wage and harvests a crop for eternal life, so that the sower and the reaper may be glad together. Thus the saying ‘One sows and another reaps’ is true. I sent you to reap what you have not worked for. Others have done the hard work, and you have reaped the benefits of their labor.”

Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I ever did.” So when the Samaritans came to him, they urged him to stay with them, and he stayed two days.  And because of his words many more became believers.

They said to the woman, “We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world.”

John 4:1-42

I have drawn a lot of life from the story of the woman at the well. Time and time again, I find myself reflecting on it. There is a lot to be learned from this interaction. To start, Jesus is a Jew interacting with a Samaritan. Regarding race relations, we see an incredible picture of how the Messiah approached people “different” from Him, as well as those that are marginalized.

We see the power of knowing and being known. When the Samaritan woman returns to her village, she is still the outcast she was at the beginning of the story. However, she is now empowered by her true identity. Understanding how you are known by the Lord of Lords leads to complete transformation.

There is incredible application in this story regarding the prophetic. Jesus uses words of knowledge to tenderly unveil the secrets of this woman. It wasn’t manipulation, and it wasn’t Him showing off. Instead, Jesus shared love and understanding with the woman, bringing healing to her whole being.

As someone who leads worship, I find myself focusing on the spirit and truth language; true worshippers that worship not only on this hill or that hill, but anywhere (and everywhere). What do we do with this? There is tension to be acknowledged in Jesus’ words. We are presented with a challenge. In order to be true worshippers, we must worship in spirit and in truth.

When I was in Junior High, the basic principles of my education were solidified. I knew how to write, how to do math, the scientific method, etc. I had beginning knowledge of many things. Obviously, there is much more to reap from school than just these things, but you will see where I am going with this. In 8th grade, lessons from my past began to overlap, thanks to the introduction of variables in Algebra. For the first time, math was not strictly numbers anymore. There was a change in math, ushered in by the introduction of letters. 

The reason I share this analogy is because Jesus is implying something easy to miss in His statement about spirit and truth. He is bringing up the assumption of understanding a distinction between spirit and truth. But, by separating the two, He is inviting a change in perspective.

Oftentimes as believers, we equate truth with scripture and spirit with the presence of God. We equate devotion to the truth with the evangelical church, and a devotion to the spirit with the charismatic church. In this statement, Jesus is awakening our hearts to understand that in order for us to truly worship, we must never separate the two. There is an invitation here to recognize the need for a culture of honoring BOTH instead of pitting them against each other.

As we advance in our education, we may find ourselves attracted and attached to one subject over another. And yet, no matter how specialized our education becomes, there is a necessary basic comprehension level for core subjects. For many people, this is the grueling challenge of obtaining a degree from a liberal arts university. Can’t I just do what I am good at and get on with it? The system is set up to encourage the formation of well-rounded individuals. Not everyone can be great at every subject, yet there is opportunity to be formed in a way that understands the basics of all subjects. 

There is little difference when we relate this back to our discussion of spirit and truth. If we lay down our “advanced” understanding of either spirit or truth, and humbly approach someone who has a conviction on the other side of the man-made fence, understanding is possible. Humility becomes the breeding ground for understanding and unity. 

Jesus knew what He was doing when He presented this message to the Samaritan woman. He knew that by sharing this new reality, we would be confronted with our need for unity. By bringing attention to how we separate spirit (that which is breathed and unseen) and truth (that which is formed and visible), Jesus draws attention to our own lack and bias, reminding us of the interwoven balance. Spirit doesn’t exist without truth. Likewise, truth does not exist without spirit. Both interact and perfectly balance the other. The two are forever brought together in the place of true worship.

There is an invitation to introspection in this story. We are invited to engage with our personal bias, whether formed through years of practice or moments of pain. When considering spirit and truth, which one do we gravitate to? Which one challenges us? May we pursue the fullness of both spirit and truth.