...Where could one such as her ever worship? She wants to know. Truly. Jesus is the only learned Jew she has ever felt safe to ask. And in response, Jesus treats her like a serious and worthy theologian. As he honors her capacity for understanding, he elevates her and all women along with her. He drops the most significant teaching on worship in all of scripture on her alone, there at the well. The entire, sweeping theme of the New Testament and covenant, and the implications of everything else he does and says, he lays out plainly for her. He doesn't shroud it in parable. He can see she's ready for the fullness of light to shine. He tells her that worship is ultimately without ritual or rite. That it is found in spirit and truth at the very core of a person. That, whether in Jerusalem or at Gerizim, such temples are already obsolete. This means that people are the very temple of God. And this suggests to her she has as much access to God as some self-important high priest who loathes her. And she always has.
People have been pleading with the ceiling for revival for decades. For as long as we've had this American culture of Christianity, they've been attempting to stoke this fire and make something happen. Something lasting and real. They've sung and prayed and wept for it. Hundreds and thousands and millions of them – at altars and in tents and stadiums, in conferences and crusades and every other kind of service imaginable, they've been crying out for revival. And it has never been enough. But they keep telling us to try again, try harder, pray more. And maybe this time our withholding God will answer. Maybe. (Judging by the past, though, probably not.)
You hear a lot in Christian circles about how "unworthy" we are. You hear a lot of it in Christian music, too. And this idea of our unworthiness is one that's meant to champion God's goodness and grace... But it's misleading. It's misleading because, while God's love and goodness may not be something we have to earn or deserve, that doesn't mean we aren't "worthy" of it. Here's something important that we often forget when it comes to "worthiness": the one giving the gift is the one who decides whether the one receiving it is worthy.
The desire of David reflected in some beautiful things and progressed the discussion for the whole world. Where his son desired wisdom above all else and wrote proverbs, David desired to sense the nearness of God... and he wrote songs. A whole lot of them. It could be reasoned that David saw himself as an ambassador joined with the move of God, while Solomon saw himself as a diplomat working for God. These two ideas persist to this day. Many still beg God for wisdom and seem to labor as though they were going it alone, while many others simply live with God and focus on declaring God's faithfulness to sustain and beautify all things. Many see God in the compartments, and focus on making big shows and displays of faith and piety for God... But many others see God with them always and everywhere - even down in the muck, when they're at rock bottom and have nothing to give.
My subconscious mind was narrating something I already understood to be true. Over and over, it was weaving an image of what I needed to come to grips with in myself. The smallness of the System I had known to address the bigness of the world. The smallness of God as I had known God... The dream was an invitation to something bigger. It was a declaration of the position I was learning to take outside the world as I had known it. It was a manifestation of my growing heart to be accounted with outsiders and those on the margins. Mine was a nightmare which helped point me toward greater light and greater truth. And it didn't leave me alone until I was truly ready to wake up.
I have found that it's kind of impossible to deeply and genuinely comfort the afflicted without (at least somewhat) afflicting many of the comforted. The reality of things is that many of us have been comforted falsely. Many have taken comfort and refuge in things which prove to be ugly and abusive. To share in the Light, then, means exposing the Darkness which has masqueraded or postured itself as light. You can't turn a light on without seeing things you couldn't see before, and the same sun that melts wax can harden clay. The response depends on the material. So it becomes fairly impossible to share true beauty, or to authentically nurture without rattling the cages of those who claim to be free.
What could be going on here in the text that so compellingly breaks down our tepid versions of the story? It is simply this: Jesus clearly expected that more than one of those healed should recognize what had happened. And he clearly felt it reasonable to expect that more than one of them should return to him... To "turn back and give praise to God." Rather than continuing on to the Temple in Jerusalem. Even though he had instructed them to go to the Temple. Even though the Temple is precisely where people go to "praise God." ...Wait, what? Are we beginning to see something deeper take shape yet? Jesus is suggesting something. We're supposed to be left asking questions. We're supposed to be left considering the message which the miracle gave so much gravity to. So what's the message? Maybe this: The closer they got to that Temple, the less they should have felt like they needed to go.
When I hear Christians rail about the differences between "Allah" and "Yahweh," I have to wonder: When did this become the kind of question you can answer with two columns of verses chosen from different books? And when did it stop being the kind of question that can only be answered in the deepest recesses of a human heart?
The real thing to realize here is that making Jesus exclusive in the way a lot of us do does not make him greater. It makes him smaller. A tiny God for a privileged few... Essentially, if you ignore the inclusiveness Jesus models - beyond any religious or non-religious affiliation - how can you be honoring him? You are "holding the line" in a battle you were never asked to wage. You are fighting over national borders while claiming to serve the King of the Universe. And when people trumpet John 14:6 to say "no one comes to the Father except through the Son," they are missing a crucial detail... It's Jesus' call. Which means... It's. Not. Yours.
When Paul encountered Jesus, his entire lens for understanding the universe changed. He went from being someone who was on the road to Damascus in order to persecute and kill by the Law, to being someone who could walk into Athens as a Jew and talk about the brotherhood of mankind by the Spirit. I'd say that's an element of this story worth preserving in Christian teaching. Worth championing in Christian missions. Worth clinging to in Christian gospel... It's the freedom to walk into any religious forum free of pride, and not declare "My truth is the only truth and yours is nothing," but instead, "God is behind all of our truths, and we have so much in common, and I want to tell you why." Maybe a few magicians were able to talk us into forgetting that. As a result, Athens disappeared - dissipated and vanished from the whole evangelism conversation. But all it takes to undo that spell is to stop forgetting, and start remembering.
The Imperial Order used the cross to accuse Jesus and many of his people of sedition, treason, insurrection... terrorism. And the early Christians wore that as a badge of honor. They submitted to it without violence or retaliation, and yet found the true victory. A powerful and unstoppable expression of Jesus' church expanded around them. The cross, for them, was a fellowship of sufferings. But for those Christians today moving to assert their power and cause suffering with the cross as their banner? ...My, how far we have come.
So what happens next?
That is entirely up to us.
You may have heard that we learn about Jesus from the New Testament, and we learn about the Father from the Old Testament... I disagree. I think it's more accurate to say we learn about Jesus - who reveals the Father in full - from the New Testament. And with that understanding of God, we finally have the proper perspective to approach all that came before with a consistent ethic of interpretation provided by the nature of the Son. That we might believe we see the "Father" so perfectly in the Old Testament, when the Old Testament itself is scarcely so bold as to even define God in that way? ...It's a truth that has been hidden in plain sight. And it's a truth that could change a lot about how we see things. To know that, any time we speak of God as Father, we are speaking to something else as well... We are speaking to the reality that it was only Jesus who was able to convince us of such a thing.
n one view, Jesus is perfect theology, and he completely defines God, while the Spirit of God is always reminding us of this - teaching us and leading us down the path of Jesus’ way... But in the other view? Well, Jesus does nothing to change our baseline understanding of God, and the Spirit has gone rogue - crafting escapist experiences for those who’ve joined God's religious team, so that they can experience a “father” more like the one they had already assumed before Jesus even entered the picture.
And so we find that what many people do not want to see in the Bible is anything which directs them beyond the Bible itself. This means that, ultimately, what many of us are terrified of is that the Bible might serve its own purpose. It's almost a paradoxical thing, and it's certainly a mystical and beautiful truth to consider: We cannot see the Bible for what it is until we are willing to look beyond it, and to view it through the lens of Jesus... The scriptures guide us to Christ so that Christ can guide us through the scriptures. And we do not honor them if we refuse to allow them to accomplish that purpose.