The Good Samaritan Comes to Samaria
The verse before our text says, "It was necessary for Jesus to pass through Samaria." It wasn't necessary for the disciples traveling with Jesus but only for Him. In John 7 Jesus enemies called Him a Samaritan to slur Him. In Luke 10 we see the ministry of Jesus in terms of the Good Samaritan. Today He comes to Samaria and songs break out.
The first song I hear is the Marty Robbins classic "Cool Water." If ever a song can make you thirsty, it can. It's a ballad about a cowboy traveling through barren lands with his mule Old Dan. "All day I've faced a barren waste/ Without the taste of water, cool water/ Old Dan and I with throats burned dry/ And souls that cry for water/ Cool, clear, water." The soul of the woman in our text is burned dry for spiritual water, but she doesn't know that. So Jesus starts with real thirst and real water. He starts with His thirst and asks her to give Him a drink, and then as she puzzles out loud over why a Jew would even be taking to her a Samaritan, Jesus says He can give her cool, clear, living water.
All the woman can think about is water for her body not for her soul, and so she reverts back to the facts at hand. Jacob's Well was deep. We think it was 75 feet down till you got to the water (Dictionary of Biblical Archaeology, 256). You would descend by a circular flight of stairs and carry the water all the way up by hand. Besides even if it wasn't that deep, as the woman points out, Jesus hadn't brought anything to carry the water up with.
This reply evidently leads her on a spiritual tangent. She challenges if this Jew thinks He's greater than Jacob expecting Him to agree with her that He is not. Instead Jesus challenges her assumption that the greatest thing is to partake of the same physical water as Jacob. Jesus puts before her cool, clean, living water that not only takes away thirst forever but makes a perpetually flowing fountain in a person.
At last the woman has been reached. Listen to her response to cool, clear, living water. "Sir, give me this water so that I won't get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water." Isn't that odd? Why didn't she leave it just at not ever being thirsty again? Why is she so emphatic, and she is, about not having to come here to draw? This leads to the second song that breaks out when the Good Samaritan comes to Samaria: "Jolene."
"Jolene" is a Dolly Parton song about a woman stealing man. The refrain goes, "Jolene, Jolene, Jolene, Jolene/ I'm begging of you, please don't take my man/ Please don't take him just because you can." Water carrying was the task of women at this time. It was social event for them. They would normally go at the same time to socialize. Yet the Jolene of our text comes at noon when other women do not. Why doesn't she like coming here? Why is she so emphatic about getting water so she doesn't have "to keep coming here to draw water?"
This woman has had five husbands and now she has a live-in lover. That sort of track record doesn't endear you to other women. Jesus doesn't go into the circumstances of her five marriages pointing out only that the man she is living with now is not her husband. Jesus draws out this point in a particularly painful way. The woman fairly gushes, "O that I never have to come here and draw water again." Jesus responds to that with, "Go call your husband and come here." The last place in the world Jolene wants to bring her live-in lover is to the place where the townswomen meet. I don't think they would be singing, "Jolene please don't take him just because you can." I think they would be starring daggers through her.
After her sin is exposed, something else odd happens. Rather than get mad and excuse her sins, she realizes that Jesus is a prophet and can help her with a religious question that evidently has been perplexing her. The Jews worship at Jerusalem but Samaritans believe the only proper place was a mountain in Samaria. She thinks one or the other must be the right place, but what does Jesus do? He blasts her. He says, "You Samaritans worship what you don't know. Salvation is from the Jews not your people. Place isn't important; worshipping God in Spirit and in truth is. Living in sin Jolene can't worship anywhere in Spirit or truth.
Jolene is taken aback by this, but notices where she goes. Again she doesn't defend her sins saying, "I am not worshipping in ignorance. I am too worshipping in Spirit and truth. Even though I'm living in sin, I still believe." This woman is confused spiritually. She has been raised in Samaria. She has been insulted by the Jews and perhaps the easy divorce laws of the Samaritans led to some of her husbands dumping her. Spiritually Jolene doesn't know if she is coming or going. But one thing she does know: "Messiah (called Christ) is coming. When He comes, He will explain everything to us." And this leads to our final song: "I amI Said."
We started with "Cool Water." We then went to "Jolene," and we end up with "I am..I said." That's a 1971 Neil Diamond song where he asserts that he really is someone even though he feels like he belongs nowhere. Why this is a fitting song to breakout here is because when the woman says, "I know the Messiah is coming, "Jesus replies, "I am the One who speaks to you."
In this simple reply Jesus is asserting two things. That He is the Messiah, the Christ, and that He is Jehovah of the Old Testament. In Exodus 3 when Moses says to the Burning Bush who should I tell the Old Testament Church has sent me, he gets the reply, ""I AM WHO I AM.' This is what you are to say to the Israelites: I AM has sent me to you.'" The Samaritans were like Muslims in that a basic part of their creed was that God was one. By directly using the Old Testament name for God, Jesus is telling her that He is the one true God.
Let's recap. Jesus, the One, true God, tells the 5 times married Jolene who now's living in sin that He is the Messiah who can explain everything to her. He can clear up the religious confusion she has known at the hands of others. And evidently based on what the townspeople told Jesus, Jesus also told Jolene that He is the Savior of the world and her Savior. You have to put this all together. Based on what the town people say, what got to Jolene the most was that, "He told me everything I ever did." Now how can that be a good thing unless Jesus also dealt with everything she ever did? I mean why else would she go around saying that Jesus told me everything I ever did unless the message also got through that He was her Savior?
You won't be singing any songs of joy unless this gets through to you. First, recognize that Jesus knows everything you have ever done and either right now in this sermon He's showing you that or on Judgment Day He will show you. Recognize here and now that Jesus knows everything you have ever done, or have it replayed in 3-D, IMAX, Technicolor before the eyes of the world on the Last Day.
Second, realize that Jolene could only go around trumpeting that Jesus told her everything she ever did if she had been relieved of carrying that burden. He not only showed her, her many sins but showed her that He was her Savior from them. She, Jolene, sinful, scorned women of Sychar is the reason Jesus had to pass through Samaria. He was looking for her at the well even as He is looking for you now. As Jesus was there looking to expose all of her sins so that He might carry them away from her, so Jesus is here today to do so for you.
Realize that you can't hide your sins and sinfulness behind reasons or excuses. Even if your sins don't bother your conscience, what's important is they bother God. Even if your sins are small in your sight, they aren't in God's. One thing is for sure; if the load of your sins doesn't get too heavy for you in this life, you will carry it all the way to hell and for eternity. Jolene got to the point where everything she ever did was too heavy and all that she knew religiously wasn't enough to keep her carrying that load. At last Jolene had to admit that only the Messiah could save her from herself.
And that's why Jesus is here. He's her to give wicked, dirty Jolene cool, clear, living water. And to do that He suffers tiredness and thirst. God almighty is tired. God the creator of water thirsts. Remember what happened in the wilderness when the Old Testament Church was thirsty? God brought water from rocks. Unless Jesus covered up who He really is, unless He didn't always use His divine power as a Man, the water would've bubbled up right then and gave Him a drink as if from a water fountain. But it didn't because Jesus is on the scene bearing our sins, griefs, and sorrows. He suffers thirsts to give the Jolene's of the world drink.
Jesus can offer the living water of forgiveness, life, and salvation to Jolene because He bought and paid for it with His holy life and with His innocent suffering and death. He washes away everything she ever did with the water that gushes from His side on the cross. He can save her from her sin; He can rescue her from being enslaved by it because He won the right to separate it from her and send it far, far away from her.
Later on in John, Jesus will reveal that He is not just I AM, but I AM the water of life. Did you notice how Jolene left her water jar at the well without getting any water to take back into town? That's because she was deluged by the living water flowing from the Messiah. And it was gracious water, rich in grace that carried Jolene along back to town with the message the Messiah had come.
How do I know that? Well what but grace could cause a Jolene to bubble over with clear, cool, living water so much so that everyone in town made their way to Jesus and urged the Savior of the world to stay with them? The Good Samaritan not only came to Samaria but stayed, and the Samaritans sang for joy. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Second Sunday in Lent (20110320); John 4: 5-30, 39-42