Monday, 19 January 2015

When the Answer is 'Neither'

The story of the meeting of Jesus with a Samaritan woman is meaningful on many levels. One feature of it seems to me to suggest a model for inter-faith dialogue.
The Jews and Samaritans in Jesus' time were a bit like Christians and Muslims today – worshipping the same God, but deeply divided and disassociated from one another.

When the woman started feeling uncomfortable with what Jesus had to say about her personal life, she decided to change the subject. Religion was a safer topic! So she said, "Sir, I see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshipped on this mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship is Jerusalem". This was a stock point of controversy between Jews and Samaritans.
The answer Jesus gave was to raise the whole question to a higher level: "Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem ... the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth".
Jesus seems to be saying that what matters is not where people worship God but how.
Perhaps the equivalent controversial question Muslims raise with Christians is something like this: "We Muslims believe in Jesus as a great prophet,  but you Christians say he is the Son of God."
I wonder whether the best response would be that the real question is: how close are any of us to the spirit of Jesus? Are we in the end judged on what we believe about the nature and status of Jesus, or on whether we follow him? 

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