Monday, December 9, 2013

The Educational Imagination of the Christian Worship : The Business of Christian Education LXXI

19 The woman said to him, “Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet. 20 Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship.” 21 Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. 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 is seeking such people to worship him. 24 God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” 25 The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ). When he comes, he will tell us all things.” 26 Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am he.”
John 4:19-26

            This event is only recorded in the gospel of John.  No other gospels recorded it.  In this event, a personal conversation took place between Jesus and a Samaritan woman.  The conversation touched several topics, from water, water of life, history of the well, husband or no husband, worship, and who the Messiah was.  Our passage above has its central focus on worship.  The woman’s understanding was primitive.  She was attached to the practice of the people, which was derived from their fathers.  Since her ancestors worshipped on the mountains, so she also continued the practice.  Apparently she had heard that the Jews claimed that worshipping Yahweh ought to be done in Jerusalem.  Of these two knowledge she reported back to Jesus as if she was begging for
guidance and clarity.  Jesus understood the cue.  Jesus felt the woman’s confusion and in need of guidance.  Thus he immediately corrected the woman’s misperception of worship.  Both the practice of the woman’s ancestors and the Jews’ claim were obsolete.  Jesus redirected her mind to what was more important, the heart of worship in relation to the nature of God.  The confusion over place of worship, on “this” mountain or in Jerusalem, was an elementary level of spiritual growth.  Up to certain age, every human being finds place of worship to be essential for their spirituality.  People like the Samaritan woman are stuck in that level and never move on to the next level.  They could not see what is more important than place of worship.  They are so attached to the physical world.  Worse, for the Samaritan woman and the people of her era, they could not even go beyond the understanding of physical place (mountain and Jerusalem) and move to the understanding of space.  What they had in mind was only the value of the place, but never the value giver.  They could not even penetrate to perceive the importance of the value giver because they could not even move on from the concrete physical objects into the abstract imagination of what was unseen.

            The idea of space is more important than the physical place, because the idea of space is indestructible while the physical place, due to the law of physics in this world, is susceptible to damage.  How much more the value giver, who is God himself, is indestructible because he is Spirit, and therefore infinitely more important than any glorious place of worship humans can ever built.  Not even the temple that Solomon built in all its splendor and glory could be more important than of whom the temple was built for.  Jesus brought the Samaritan woman to the realm of imagination where no physical damage can be incurred upon.  The mountain certainly carried with it some kind of majestic awe that captured the emotion of her ancestors.  Jerusalem too was filled with so much historic memory and value that also captured the emotion of the Jews.  But if what they focus on was only the physical place, then they missed the more important meaning that those places might be projecting.  Our depravity obscures our understanding that physical awesomeness distracts our senses from the deeper meaning that physical objects are ascribed to.  Over time, with our senses being lulled and dulled by the physical grandeur, we forget the story behind the objects.  In the case of worship, people at the time of Jesus no longer worshipped the Lord who gave the value and meaning, but they began to worship the objects – the places.  It was to the point of condemnation by each party claiming for each position to be the truth.  The Jews, especially, with the historicity of Jerusalem on their side, they asserted that Yahweh could only be found in the temple in Jerusalem.  But they forgot Solomon’s prayer in 2 Chronicles 6:18 saying:

18 “But will God indeed dwell with man on the earth? Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you, how much less this house that I have built!

Physical place indeed has its role in our spiritual growth.  But if we give it honor beyond its role, then we stunt our own spirituality.  The Samaritan woman, her people, and also the Jews were stuck and therefore did not grow spiritually anymore.

But the Jews had the upper hand because with them was the Book of the Covenant and thus they had knowledge of God.  This alone was superior.  Jesus said to the woman that she did not know who she worshiped, but the Jews knew.  This truth about who we worship is foundational.  The act of worship in itself is good.  But it quickly becomes meaningless if the worshipers do not know who they worship.  The act of worship is indeed matching with our construct as imago dei, but yet that’s only half of the story.  The worshipers must worship the right God.  Without knowledge of the true God, the worshipers waste their act of worship toward those who are no God.  The connection between the worshipers and God could not be established without the true knowledge of God.  This makes the act of worship empty.  They come to the place of worship busy doing acts of worship but in the end the act of worship is worthless.  The Samaritan woman obviously knew nothing about what Jesus talked about.  But in his grace and mercy, Jesus, breaking the tradition of his time, spoke and taught the Samaritan woman in public.  Jesus was a Jew, a man, a rabbi, a prophet, and thus his status was regarded to be highly honorable compared to the woman.  The woman was a Samaritan, whom the Jews considered to be of mixed blood.  She was no longer “Israel” because she was not pure.  Moreover, she was a woman.  And not a regular woman, she was an unrighteous woman.  But Jesus was gracious and merciful toward her that he revealed to her the secret of heaven and earth.  He said in verses 23 & 24 that “the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. 24 God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”   The worshipers must follow the will of the one they worship.  For worship foundationally belongs to the one being worshiped.  His will is that the worship must be done in spirit and truth.

In spirit because God is spirit.  The attachment to the place of worship betrays this requirement.  People of that time in particular were mightily confused by the practices of religions in their era.  Their gods were basically physical objects.  So their worship was bound to the physical world.  Their imagination was limited to the concrete objects and experiences they had or knew.  Their eyes of faith were severely damaged that they could not see beyond the concrete objects.  They failed to recognize the nature of God.  In their attempt to satisfy their urge to worship, they bound “god” into their handmade idols.  And since they could not find any better, they were satisfied with what they had.  This practice was evil in God’s eyes.  Jesus had to educate the woman, and eventually the entire world, that God is spirit.  This nature of God makes it a must for every worshiper to worship in spirit.  No physical objects ought to take the place of God.  Our worship must go beyond the physical.  In our spiritual growth, physical objects have their roles in forming our imagination.  But their use must not be carried onto our mature stage of spiritual growth.  When we mature we are expected to enter into an abstract realm.  At that level we are capable of grasping matters that are not physical and concrete.  As we grow into maturity, our imagination ought to be educated in such a way that we may be in tune with what is unseen.  The entry to the abstract real is a dangerous path.  Because imagination may go wild.  Once our spirituality matures and we start using imagination at will and ease, it would be extremely difficult to unlearn our educational imagination.  That is why Jesus did not just teach the woman to worship God in spirit, but Jesus also taught her to worship God in truth.  The truth is the compass of which our imagination, and thus our spirit may not venture into the forbidden and destructive territory.

In this gospel also John recorded the conversation between Jesus and Pilate.  In John 18:37-38 we will find this irony:

37 Then Pilate said to him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.” 38 Pilate said to him, “What is truth?”

Jesus was to bear witness to the truth.  Moreover, Jesus himself was the Truth (John 14:6).  The truth is necessary for the worship of the true God.  The Jews had the law, but yet they did not worship God in truth.  This was because they rejected Jesus, the Truth himself.  They worshiped God in their own truth as if they owned worship.  As the owner of worship, God has revealed the truth on how to worship him truly.  Now, God did not let our imagination to run wild.  He gave us Jesus Christ to be our guide.  The Samaritan woman quickly recognized Jesus to be the one sent by the true God.  And so she remembered what she learned about the Messiah.  No doubt her heart was longing for the Messiah to tell her of everything.  She said in verse 25: “I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ). When he comes, he will tell us all things.”  Of this statement Jesus responded: “I who speak to you am he.”   Now the word “tell” in verse 25 is not the regular λέγω, but it is ναγγέλλω.  ναγγέλλω means much more than just telling.  It means informing in great detail.  This meaning is similar to the notion of teaching.  And so it would be reasonable to translate it as: “I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ).  When he comes, he will teach us all things.”  And thus such translation helps us from being confused with the simple meaning of “tell”.  In that way Jesus was educating the Samaritan woman to enter into the realm of imagination that surpassed the physical limitation, of mountain and Jerusalem, which bound her freedom to worship the God of heaven and earth.

            The educational imagination that the Samaritan woman was experiencing in her conversation with Jesus liberated her in her worship of the true God.  In many ways we are so much alike the Samaritan woman.  Many times our worship is crippled by physical matters that we forget the spirituality of worship.  We are too tangled with our emotion and sentimentality over worldly things so that we do not worship God in spirit.  Instead of focusing on pleasing God who is spirit, we too often are busy doing acts of worship that please our own heart and satisfy our desire.  In addition, we do not pursue the truth but we impose our own “truth” to our acts of worship, of which worship foundationally belongs to God.  Instead of consulting God in his holy words to find out his will, we devise our own methods, ideas, concepts, etc. that replace God’s will on how he wanted to be worshipped.  Obviously, we are stuck in our spiritual growth just like the Samaritan woman and the Jews of Jesus’ time that we do not worship the true God in spirit and truth.  How much more, Christian worship becomes more and more immature as the new default of maturity is slowly accepted.  Jesus has set the standard of worship, in which all worshipers must worship the true God in spirit and truth.  It is our duty to return to the standard that Jesus has set for us.  Worship belongs to him.  If we are to worship him, then we ought to follow his standard.  This is where the educational imagination of the Christian worship becomes significant.

            Pastors, Elders, Deacons, Ministers, Teachers, Theologians, must all work together to compose the framework of the educational imagination of the Christian worship in order to educate and re-educate God’s people of the right way to worship the Lord.  Jesus did that with the Samaritan woman, and so she became an evangelist to the Samaritans and pointed to Jesus the Messiah.  The right way to worship was passed on with the sole purpose to please God.  When people gather to worship, they may not do acts of worship that seemingly pleasing God but in reality only pleasing their own.  Physical place, the idea of space, the music, the liturgy, etc. are all important in our spiritual growth and process toward becoming true and mature worshipers.  But our hearts ought to learn not to be attached to those worldly things.  But instead, our eyes of faith must see clearly the God himself, who sits on the throne.  The educational imagination of the Christian worship framework must be designed carefully so as to provide the learning items and contexts for God’s people to walk in the path of true worship.  And so in every corner of the educational imagination of the Christian worship must be found the worship of God in spirit and truth as the foundation.

No comments: