...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.
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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.
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 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.
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.
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.
We have no record of Jesus requesting anything of Zacchaeus, but his loving inclusion did pave the way for radical change to happen. There is power in that sort of love. The kind of love that is not conditional. It doesn't offer relational embrace only if the one receiving it promises to change. It's not a love that burdens others with obligations and more reasons to feel guilty. Real love isn't loaded with that sort of empty, forced reciprocation. it's reckless and wild and free. Jesus extends embrace without condition, without pretense, without contingency. This is the sort of love that can reverse years and decades of ugliness and brokenness and hurt and pain.
Jesus doesn't want his friends groveling on the ground in terror, or keeping him in a distant box in a shrouded tent... He doesn't want things done the old way. Jesus wants them to get up. To be fearless. And to be with him. In The Transfiguration, we see the purpose of Moses and Elijah's final appearance: to decrease and diminish as Jesus was exalted to be heard. Jesus... would not be sharing his platform with the representatives of the Law and Prophets.
Do we not see the danger of promoting the same God as Babylon under a different name? Do we not see that Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego are not just standing up to the Babylonian version of that God, but to that notion of God in general?