From now until Holy Week, we will be treated to long, rich readings from the Gospel of Saint John.
Each gospel reading, such as the one we heard today, is like a sumptuous meal. We could savor each bite. In fact, there is no doubt that we could preach a sermon on just about every line from the story of the Samaritan woman at the well.
Today, however, I would like to focus on these words from the gospel: “...the hour is coming, and is now here, when true worshipers will worship the Father in Spirit and truth; and indeed the Father seeks such people to worship him. God is Spirit, and those who worship him must worship in Spirit and truth.”
In the middle of our Lenten fast, we do well to ask ourselves: “What does it mean to worship in Spirit and in truth?” And, perhaps more importantly, “Do I worship God in Spirit and in truth?”
Simply put, worshiping God in Spirit means applying our mind and heart to our prayer. It means that I am not only speaking the words but contemplating their meaning in my mind. It means that I not only ask for forgiveness from the Father but that I commit myself to really changing my attitudes and behavior. It means that I not only go to church every Sunday but that I participate by singing, responding and reflecting attentively and reverently on all that is taking place. Worshiping God in Spirit means that I apply my whole being to prayer - my body, my mind and my heart.
What would any of relationships be like if we said, “I love you”, but didn’t really mean it? How could we have friendships if we spent time with those we love but our mind was distracted by a thousand other thoughts? What kind of parents would we be if we made promises to our children but never followed through on them? Just so, if we are going to have a relationship with Jesus we must mean what we say and follow through on our promises. That is what it means to worship in Spirit.
There is also a deeper meaning to what it means to worship God in Spirit. It means putting God’s will before my own. Many of us have had the experience of praying only when we needed something. There is nothing wrong with that. In fact, our Heavenly Father wants us to take all our needs to Him and to rely on Him to provide for us. However, we can begin to develop the attitude that God is there to follow our agenda. We think that prayer is a way to get God to do our will.
However, those who worship God in Spirit have a very different attitude. They say, “God, what can I do for you,” rather than, “God, what can you do for me.” In their prayer, they seek God’s will rather than trying to get God to do their will. They put God at the center rather than themselves. Our Heavenly Father is able to accomplish great things through such believers because they are open to doing whatever it takes to please Him. Such people truly worship God in Spirit.
Not only does God desire that we worship Him in Spirit but also that we worship Him in “truth”.
To worship God in truth means to worship Him in the reality of who He is. He is God, the Almighty and Eternal. He is the Creator of the Universe, the One who sustains all things in being. He is the One to whom we owe our existence and our salvation. There is no other who is worthy of the praise, glory and worship we lift up to Him.
To worship God in truth means that we have to understand who He is. How do we do that? By reading and studying the Bible, especially the gospels. The Bible is the word of God which reveals to us the truth of who God is. When we read and study Scripture, we gain access to the mind of our God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We come to understand how He sees the world and how He acts. We learn what is most important to Him. As we grow in our knowledge of Him, we are able to worship in truth.
To worship God in truth means also that we approach Him in the truth of who we are.
The woman in today’s gospel gives us a great example of someone who approaches Jesus in the truth of who she is. From the outset, she understands that she is a Samaritan woman and Jesus is a Jewish man. She understands that Jesus is taking a risk in speaking to her. Moreover, when Jesus confronts her about the truth of her life - that she has had five husbands and that the man she is living with is not her husband - she does not dump her bucket of water over His head and tell Him that He has no right to judge her. Rather, she accepts the truth of who she is without making any excuses or trying to justify her behavior.
In just the same way, each of us comes before God as sinners. All of us have fallen short of the full and abundant life God has planned for us. Approaching God with humble and contrite hearts has to be the starting point of all our prayer. Then we will come to understand how merciful our Heavenly Father is and love Him all the more. Ultimately, that is what God wants - not just to be feared and obeyed but to be loved. When we come to God acknowledging our sinfulness, then we are worshiping Him in truth.
“God is Spirit, and those who worship him must worship in Spirit and truth”. We know that our prayer is pleasing to God when we give Him our full attention, when we put His will before our own, when we worship Him in the truth of His Being as our Creator and Savior and when we approach Him humbly, acknowledging that we are sinners. If we apply ourselves everyday to worshiping God in Spirit and truth then His loving presence and action will become a reality in our lives. Then we will echo the words of the Samaritan people at the end of the gospel who profess: “We no longer believe because of your word; for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the Savior of the World.”