Must we worship only in church?
By SR. LOUISE ZDUNICH, NDC
Q: In John's Gospel, Jesus tells the Samaritan woman that the time will come when worship of God will be in spirit and truth rather than in Jerusalem or on the mountain (4:21-24). Does that mean that we can worship God wherever we choose instead of going to church?
A: I'd like to give you a bit of background before answering your question. As told in the Bible (2 Kings), in 720 BC, much of the population of the northern kingdom, Samaria, was exiled by the conquering Assyrians who then brought in people from other areas.
Some Jews remained in Samaria and intermarried with these incoming foreigners, thus losing their racial purity and often adopting worship of the foreign gods of the incoming people.
Rebuild the Temple
A few centuries later, a similar defeat and exile happened to the southern kingdom who clung to their Jewishness. When they returned to Jerusalem, they began to rebuild the Temple.
The Samaritans' offer of help was rejected because, according to the Jerusalem Jews, by losing their racial purity they had no right in this sacred task. The Jerusalem Jews destroyed the temple on Mount Gerizim. These events resulted in the two groups turning against each other with a bitterness that still existed in Jesus' time.
The Samaritans accepted only the first five books of the Bible, thus rejecting the messages of the prophets and the devotional Psalms. They made up their own history in order to glorify their mountain as a place of worship, teaching that Mount Gerizim was the holy site where Abraham had brought Isaac to be sacrificed.
The woman asked Jesus where she should go to offer sacrifices for her sins since, the Jerusalem Jews said it was Jerusalem and the Samaritans said Mount Gerizim.
Jesus tells her that Samaritan worship is a false worship. It is selective because they pick and choose what they want from the truths God has revealed in the Scriptures. It is superstitious because they worship God out of fear that something bad may happen if they don't. Instead, worship should be out of love and gratitude.