Imagine meeting a perfect stranger who proceeds to tell you some of your darkest secrets. It would certainly be disconcerting to say the least. You might try to deflect the conversation, change the subject, or flat out deny what they say.
The woman at the well decides to change the subject and take advantage of the knowledge Jesus has by engaging him in a theological debate about worship. It is not a bad tactic. If you want to stir up controversy and get people talking, a debate about worship preferences and theology will certainly to that. The Samaritans were not welcome in Jerusalem nor at the Temple there. As a result they established their own place of worship and the Jews despised them even more for it. The woman wants Jesus, whom she perceives to be a prophet, to settle the issue or at least talk about it.
Jesus makes a startling claim. God really doesn’t care much about where you worship. What really matters to God is that you do worship and you do so “in spirit and truth”. Okay, fine. But what does that mean? Given the setting and context of his conversation with the woman we can draw a few conclusions.
The debate over location for worship is also connected to what things you actually do in worship, what practices one follows. The Jews and Samaritans argued over form instead of function. As long as you performed the right actions, in the right place, at the right times, you were worshipping correctly. Jesus makes it clear that worship is first a matter of the Spirit. You have to be connected with God on a spiritual level to actually worship God. Performing the right rituals without the spiritual reality of a connection with God is useless and actually damaging. Because you are actually fooling yourself into thinking you are right with God.
The second aspect of truth is just as crucial. You have to know who God really is in order to worship HIm. You can have some “spiritual” experience that feels wonderful but if it is focused on a false understanding of God then you are worship a false God. This is where God’s Word becomes so important in worship. It is in his Word, his Truth, that God has most clearly made himself known. It is the God of the Bible who we worship and the more we learn of him through his word, the more amazing, beautiful, powerful, awesome, and worthy of worship he will become in our eyes.