The hour is coming, and is now here, when true worshipers will worship the Father in Spirit and in truth. – John 4: 23

   In our Lord’s day, a sincere, conscientious person faced an intolerable burden with regard to his religion. There were over 600 laws which all Hebrews knew & tried to obey to keep right with God. It affected what they ate, what they wore, what they believed, what they did, & how they worshipped. Their religion had become a religion of “oughtness!” “You ought to do this, you ought not to do that.” It had become a constricting, confining burden.

   When Jesus said, “Come to me, all you who labor & are burdened, & I will give you rest” (Mt. 11: 28), He was calling them & us to come out from under the heavy burden of guilt over not being able to dot every “I” & cross every “T” every time. It is one of the things He is trying to convey to the Samaritan woman in today’s Gospel. He was inviting her & us into a religion of the spirit; a life-giving, spontaneous relationship with God.

   The more one thinks about it, the more apparent it becomes that most of us who love the church deeply & want it to flourish have yet to hear Jesus’ invitation to come to the Father in “spirit & truth.” What is at the heart of our own religious experience? Is it still the business of “oughts” & “shall nots,” of obligation? Where is the Joy, the spontaneity?

   People go to Church for a variety of reasons: obligations of children to parents, of parents to children, of adults who are slaves to their own respectable image. Jesus is not interested in fostering that kind of religious experience. Praising & giving thanks to God should never be a burden, but a joy. When we make it a burden, we do the same in our relationships with other people. We may talk about loving our neighbor & one another, about being the Good Samaritan; but the problem is most of us go out carrying the mandate as a heavy burden. We try to minister to others because we ought to & they know immediately that that is why we’re there.

   If someone thanked us for visiting them in the hospital, what would they think if we said, “I’m here out of a sense of duty.” Unfortunately, most times we do not even have to say it. What we need are tears shed, not out of a sense of obligation, but out of love, tears that  flow spontaneously – like the tears shed by Jesus over Jerusalem for us as well as others. That is the spirit that authenticates our worship experience.  AMEN!