Jolene Meets Sawyer Brown
Jolene is immortalized in a 1974 Dolly Parton song by that name as a loose woman who specialized in stealing other women's men. Sawyer Brown released a song in 1992 titled "Some Girls Do" whose refrain is "Some girls don't like boys like me/ Aww but some girls do." These two archetypes meet in our text.
Meet Jolene. I doubt she had "flaming locks of auburn hair/ With ivory skin and eyes of emerald green," but she was notorious in town. In the first century A.D. as it was right up till modern times, women didn't outlive men. It was the men who had multiple wives due to the early death of wives during childbirth. So, the fact that this woman has had 5 husbands is surely notable and even if she was widowed 5 times that would surely earn her the name "Black Widow."
Who knows whether this Jolene's smile was like the breath of spring and her voice soft like a summer rain, but it was true the other women couldn't compete with her. She had landed 5 husbands and was now living in fornication; that's what we politely, inaccurately, and worldly call "living together." No, whether the 6th man was afraid to marry her, didn't want to marry, or she was done with marriage, either way they were shacking up.
You don't think I've proven my assertion that she was notorious in this town. I'll go one better she was shamed. She's out doing the women's work of drawing water from the town well, but she comes at a time when no other women do. And relief drips from her spring-like voice when she mistakenly thinks Jesus can make it so she never has to come to this well again. "Give me this water in order that no longer I thirst and neither should come here to draw water," she pleads. It is not sexist to state that women are sharper and crueler to other women than men are to men. And homewreckers, tramps, man-stealers are shown no mercy.
Jesus is going to play off Jolene's guilt-driven relief in His response. But first meet Jesus. He's the One some girls don't like. Actually, Biblically, He's the One that no girl, woman, boy or man likes on their own. And it's a miracle that anyone at all ever likes Jesus, is drawn to Jesus, but some men, boys, women, and this girl are.
Jesus is exhausted. I don't think "tired from the journey" is accurate. The NASB, KJV have "wearied." The form of this word means He's been spent by the journey and He will be forever spent. In the New Testament, the word is used to describe having labored hard. And He's thirsty. Did you notice that Jesus never does get a drink? Read the rest of the chapter. When the disciples get back they offer Him food but not drink.
Jesus is here not for food or drink but for Jolene. The verse before our text says "He had to go through Samaria." The KJV lets you know this is more than a simple "had to" by translating "He must needs." Jesus was going from Judea to Galilee, and you didn't have to pass through Samaria. You could go around it, and pious Jews did. The Samaritan were leftovers from the 10 tribes of Northern Israel the Assyrians had defeated 700 years earlier. They had married with foreigners. They were considered unclean and unsaved by Jews, and Jesus even says "You Samaritans worship what you do not know." So why does Jesus purposely pass through Samara? He "must." It's a 3 letter Greek word that is often used in connection with the saving acts of Jesus. At age 12 Jesus says that He had to be about His Father's business. The Son of Man must be lifted up. I must work the works of Him who sent me. And He must rise again from the dead. As part of His saving work, it is necessary that Jesus saves Jolene.
Their first interchange starts with a command and promise. Jesus doesn't ask her as the insert has it "Will you give Me a drink?" He commands her, "You must give me a drink." And the promise follows that Jesus has the water of life. As the seminary trained apostles do frequently, so our jaded Jolene mistakenly thinks Jesus is talking about physical water rather than spiritual, lifesaving, eternal water. But that's okay because that's going to lead to her sin, and there can be no salvation for anyone without first coming into real contact with their personal sins.
Here's where Jesus plays off her relief at the prospect of not having to face the shame of this well again. She had said give me the water, so she wouldn't have to "keep coming here to draw water." Jesus uses the same Greek word in reply. "Go call your husband and come here." Leaving it last in the sentence puts the emphasis on coming here.
Ouch! Poor Jolene comes unraveled as Jesus brings the Law of God down on her head with full force. She tries to bluster her way out, "Not this is the strongest Greek word for denying something I have a husband." This is technically correct. This by the way puts the lie to anyone claiming living together is the same as marriage. It's not. Jesus points out that she doesn't have a husband but she has had 5 but the man she's living with now is not her husband.
Jesus is bringing Jolene's whole sordid life before her eyes. However she went through 5 husbands there was pain, tears, and sins. At one time, she did have her choice of men, but no matter how she lost those husbands, death or divorced by them, there is almost always a step down. The guy she's shacking up with 5 husbands later is not likely to be the cream of the crop. More likely she had to settle for him. Most likely Jolene has to suffer a lot with him. He won't marry her. He's doing her a favor by putting a roof over her head, and she has to take it. And the trail of tears that her sinful life was ends up here at this hated well full of the water of shame.
Most girls, most sinners, don't like saviors like Jesus, but Jolene is moved to. She isn't trying to dodge her sins, or change the subject. 2000 years later we have to take people at the words the Holy Spirit records them speaking. She doesn't deny her sins but confesses them. "I can see that you are prophet." You speak for God. You see what God sees; my whole life is broken with sinfulness. She didn't start out to make such a hash of her life but she most certainly had. And she now longs for a way out.
The way out she knows to be God, but like so many people of our day, she sees there are competing claims about where God is to be found. Where is God for her? Jesus doesn't mince words. It's not with the Samaritans. It's with the Jews "salvation is from the Jews." But it's not a matter of where you worship but how you worship. Worship is to be of spirit and truth; that is, it must be in accordance with God's Word, the truth, and it must not be merely going through the motions: confessing your sins without really admitting to them, hearing the absolution but not believing your sins are really sent away, kneeling before God at the confession or before His presence at the altar in body but not in spirit.
You do realize this is impossible? Our Jolene did. Our Jolene is not dodging our Sawyer Brown; she is in fact running full tilt toward him. But when she hears that true worshippers of God "must worship in spirit and truth", she thinks what you do. My mind wanders from here to there throughout the service. And Pontius Pilate wasn't the first person to be beguiled by the question "What is truth?" Our Jolene thinks as anyone caught by the law should: My going to heaven, my being saved from my sins as a person of ill-repute, can't be based on my worship. And so, "Messiah, Christ" comes to her like a breath of spring and soft like summer rain. Messiah-ward her thoughts turn like flowers to the sun (Lenski, 326).
Her mind is befuddled like ours with sins, with the Law, with hoping to be forgiven and free at last from them, but such thoughts whirl and entwine around one another like so many snakes in a pit. Messiah will set things right; Christ is her answer. He will explain everything. Her sinfulness; her hope; her salvation. And she's right He is the answer, and He is standing right in front of her, but she doesn't see Him. The Law has done its part. It has shown her her sins and the impossibility of her ever dealing with them, getting out from under them, being saved from them on her own. And she is driven to the conclusion that the promised Messiah is the answer this much the Samaritans did retain.
And now for the mic-drop. Jesus doesn't say, "I who speak to you am He" as an English schoolmarm would. He says, "I AM, the One speaking to you." The Samaritans did use the name Yahweh, which is "I am." I am the answer to the Law that accuses you day and night rightly and justly for all your sins. I am the answer to the guilt that plagues your sleep and fears. I am the answer to the Death that whispers your sins make you mine. He's the answer because He kept all the Laws that girls, women, men and boys must keep or go to hell, must keep or suffer punishment today and for eternity. The Christ kept all those laws. Lift up your head weighted down with sin, shame, guilt. Where are your accusers now?
They aren't there because Messiah has come and answered them all. Not just what they demanded of you but the punishment that had to be paid. Jesus stood before the bar of Divine Justice guilty of all the sins of all the Jolene's of the world, of all the multiple married, of all the fornicators, of all those who worship God outwardly and wrongly, and He paid the price. And He stands before you now giving sinners dead in their sins life in His name. I Am stands here now doing what the Epistle says: calling things that are not as things that are. He declares the guilty, not guilty. The empty, full. The thirsty, watered. The damned, saved, and the lost found.
Most don't like a Savior like this. No one on their own will. But some moved by the Spirit and the Truth do, but the Holy Spirit and the One who is the Truth are in search of not some but all. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Second Sunday in Lent (20170312); John 4: 4-26