Short Meditations in John 4: 20. Worship
Jn 4:20 Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.”
This conversation, contrary to what preachers would often like to make it, is not easy and clear cut. The fact that Jesus was alone with this woman suggests that he must have told the inner group at least about what had happened for John to be able to record it. Was there more to it and John just picked out the highlights? We don’t know but what we are shown is a feeling that this conversation comes and goes somewhat.
It started by focusing on living water, which eventually she asked for but possibly without understanding. Jesus then turned it onto her past lifestyle, revealing he knows all about it, to which she responds that he must be a prophet. That sounded positive but then we now find she pushes a division between herself and Jesus. It may be that she felt this talk about her past was getting too close to home.
It almost seems that having had her life revealed she may feel a bit exposed and so, in a sense, lashes back at Jesus with a negative comment about their apparent super-spirituality. Observe the strength of it, “You Jews”. That is divisive language, the language of separation. It begins to have the feeling of her saying, “What right have you got to come here telling me about my life?” I say that because she starts with, “Our fathers worshipped on this mountain.” It is probably that “this mountain” was Mount Gerizim. There had been debate between Jews and Samaritans about this place.
We have seen previously that Abraham and Jacob both had links with this place, and nearby Mount Gerizim had been the place where Israel, when they entered the land originally, had been commanded to declare the blessings of God over the land (Deut 11:29) and then curses from nearby Mount Ebal. They had also been instructed to set up an altar on Mount Ebal with the stones taken from the Jordon and establish a monument and an altar there on Mount Ebal (Deut 27:4-6) The Samaritans made Mount Gerizim the focus for the worship and not Mount Ebal, even building a temple there about 400BC which the Jews destroyed about 128BC. Little wonder there was hostility between them. Thus this woman now focuses on that hostility pushing a wedge between her and Jesus. It is almost like she is subtly saying, “Back off Jew!”
The question we should perhaps challenge ourselves with is, do we act defensively when God faces us with the truth about ourselves? He does it to bring us through into a better place but the old sin nature doesn’t like the challenge. Be aware of this.