Focus Text: John 4.19-24
By demonstrating His in-depth knowledge of the woman and her marital state, Jesus gave compelling evidence that He was more than mere man. This led the Samaritan woman to say, “Sir, I perceive that You are a prophet. Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, and you Jews say that in Jerusalem is the place where one ought to worship.” (John 4.19-20).
There is the possibility that the woman posed this popular religious-political question merely to deflect attention away from her own condition. Or, there is the possibility that she really wanted to know the answer to this oft-discussed matter! Which one was the right place to worship? Regardless of motive, her question deserved an answer; apparently the woman knew for certain that one and only one of two answers was right; she did not give Jesus a question where multiple answers could be considered correct; neither did she present a false dilemma. Rather, the Samaritan woman correctly framed a question which doubtless was the subject of much debate, and one which deserved an answer.
Truth, as always, was at a premium. If her motives were genuine, Jesus’ answer would not be perceived as negative. If, on the other hand, her motives were insincere, Jesus’ answer could just be the one excuse she needed in order to turn away angrily on her heels, never to listen to a Jew again! In what otherwise might have been a tense situation, Jesus calmly said, “Woman, believe Me, the hour is coming when you will neither on this mountain [Gerizim in Samaria], nor in Jerusalem, worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we know what we worship, for salvation is of the Jews. But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him. God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.” (John 4.21-24).
Herein is a marvelous and timeless example of how God treats sinners. A woman’s soul was in the balance. An answer that was ill-conceived or ill-received could end what otherwise looked to be a promising religious discussion. Yet, even in this most solemn of moments, Jesus absolutely “pulled no punches.” In His response, Jesus said a lot. One thing He said (paraphrasing) was, “We [Jews] are right in where and how we worship while you [Samaritans] don’t even know who you worship!” Without any hesitation and in the context of what was right and what was wrong, Jesus clearly stated, “Salvation is of the Jews!”
Regardless of counsel to the contrary, sometimes it is right simply to say to a person, “You are wrong!” That is not to say this is something that ought to happen on a routine basis, but when motives are sincere, a heart is genuinely searching for truth, and a question is posed which seeks to clarify an important and troubling point, such an answer is definitely the right answer. There was no cockiness in Jesus’ voice; He was not proud that the woman was wrong in her worship; He did not gloat in being a part of the “winning” side; He simply told the truth!
God treats sinners the way they ought to be treated; respect and candor are not antithetical!
1. Having perceived Jesus to be a prophet, what motives might the woman have had in asking the question that she did (John 4.20)?
2. What did Jesus have to lose by respectfully telling her the truth?
3. Is it ever right to tell another person that they are wrong? Can we ever know with certainty that a given action is wrong (sinful/anti-biblical/condemned)? If yes, how?
4. Why do you suppose the woman did not turn away in a rage? What practical application can we make of her reaction and how we respond to “hard” questions?
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