Someone’s Daughter


There was a billboard campaign in the 90s against pornography and abuse of women in general. The ad pictured a sad-faced woman and the tagline: “She’s Someone’s Daughter”. That’s a simple but forgotten fact. The 2nd Sunday in Lent is historically called Reminiscere for the first word in our Introit: Remember. The Lord by contrast never forgets everyone is someone’s daughter or son.

Even the Jolene’s of the world? This woman is who Dolly Parton sang of. Her 1974 song begs with Jolene: “Please don’t take my man just because you can.” Make no mistakes the woman at the well is Jolene. She’s had 5 husbands and not slowing down. Now it seems she has taken to living together. Literature knows her as a femme fatale. Women know her by less polite names like tramp, hussy, and worse. They recognize them from probably middle school on. Boys and men like her; women do not. The only comparable guy song that I know of  is “Seven Year Ache” where the “Boys say, ‘When is he gonna give us some room’ The girls say, …, I hope he comes back soon.’"

Jolene’s are home-wreckers. You get this in the text. The promise of living water and eternally bubbling spring mean most to this woman because, she won’t have to come here to draw water. MSG has “give me this water so I won’t ever get thirsty; won’t ever have to come back to this well again!” Getting water was women’s task. She is at the well at noon when no other women are. She can do without their sharp tongues, their innuendoes, and looks. French women who cooperated with the Nazis had their head’s shaved by their countrymen when Paris was liberated.

The Woman at the Well doesn’t have her head shaved, but Jesus’ shaves her of her pretenses. He knows and she knows that He knows: she’s a Jolene. She tells the townspeople: “Come and see the man who told me everything I ever did!” An adversary (atheist Shaw) of Chesterton once sent him a letter saying he pitied the man who had to hear his confession. He’d be so shocked that he would wish you became a fire-worshipper rather than a Christian (Wisdom and Innocence 290). Surely this woman was stunned. Jesus knew every sordid detail and yet still treated her gently, politely. She’s moved but not yet converted. When she asks the townspeople if this could be the Christ. She asks expecting a “no” answer. “He couldn’t be the Christ, could He?” But I agree with a commentator who says, “It is as though a negative answer might be expected, but a positive one is hoped for” (Morris, 275).

She’s Jolene all right, but Jesus treats her as Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farms. I struggled to find a woman whom everyone would recognize as the opposite of Jolene. Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farms is from early to mid-20th century. Pollyanna is 1950’s. In my search I came upon 2 songs – of recent origin – that are responses to Parton’s ‘Jolene’, but they are revenge songs. They treat the man-stealing hussy as she deserves. That’s not what Jesus does to any of us. Scripture says this: “He does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities” (Ps. 103:10). Right after the appalling sacking of Jerusalem, Jeremiah can still say: “Because of the Lord's great love we are not consumed, for His compassions never fail” (Lam. 3:22). And Ezra, having lived through the Babylonian captivity can observe: "What has happened to us is a result of our evil deeds and our great guilt, and yet, our God, you have punished us less than our sins have deserved…” (Ez. 9:13).

Read John 4:1-4, the verses before the insert. There you’ll find Jesus left Judea and went back once more to Galilee. Now He had to go through Samaria.” No He didn’t. The Jews bypassed this hated region all the time on such journeys. Jolene is not exaggerating when she says to Jesus: “’You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?’" And John isn’t either when he editorializes: “For Jews do not associate with Samaritans” (Jn. 4:9). And the necessity of going through Samaria wasn’t on the disciples. It doesn’t say, “they”, including the disciples, but just “He had to.” It’s the Greek word that is a Passion buzzword. “It was necessary” for Jesus to pass through Samaria. He’s going to suffer more hunger and thirst just to gather this lost sheep and a town-sized flock. When the disciples can’t get their head around Jesus refusing food they had bought for Him, by saying His food was doing God’s will, Jesus says, “I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest” (Jn 4:35). And this home-wrecking hussy, this Jolene, is sheep number one!

Jesus starts the conversation by asking something of her. He asks a gift of her, water. He dares to talk to whom pious Jews shunned. And by engaging her He awakens a thirst which no amount of water can satisfy. This woman is living in sin which dries her up and out. Ponder this: before Jesus confronts her with her sins: He speaks the things of the Gospel, the Good News of living water, eternal life. Then when she tries to theologically spar with Jesus, He reveals that “I am the Christ who speaks to you.” Yahweh has come down to speak to you in Person like He did to Abraham and Moses. A seminary classmate of mine in New Orleans when I was, was in the French Quarter with our Professor Marquart when a bum kept begging for money. My classmate tried several times to chase the man off. Professor Marquart took the man aside and led him into a nice French Quarter restaurant and had a complete meal with him. Basically, waiting on him. This is grace. This is mercy. This is Gospel that is irrational, unreasonable. And I’m not saying: “Be Professor Marquart”. No I’m saying that I, you, us are that man he served and this Jolene.

Remember God’s mercy endures forever; sin and guilt do not. Our Collect is from at least the 16th century prays, “O God, whose glory it is always to have mercy.” The Prophet Habakkuk faced with the invasion of Judea, the destruction of the city he lives in, and deportation to Babylon because the OT church as been infected with misbelief, unbelief, and idolatry prays, “In wrath remember mercy” (3:2). Now, if you mix Law and Gospel at this point and think, we’re asking God to be Santa here and ho, ho, ho away our sins, His wrath, etc., you rob Him of His glory. And you miss why this text and Collect are appointed for Lent.

German theologian, executed for his part in trying to kill Hitler, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, coined the term, ‘cheap grace’ in his book Cost of Discipleship. College-aged kids love this book, but you don’t restore the value of God’s grace by living in guilt, or bad feelings about your sins. That cheapens God’s grace for Jesus’ sake in another way. It’s not powerful enough to wipe all sins away, to completely remove sins’ stains. Grace is cheap if you think it costs nothing but a change of God’s mind. But God’s mercy is cheapened if you think any amount of your pain or suffering can deserve it. No Jesus had to win it for you, for this Jolene.

Our insert says that Jesus “tired as He was from the journey, sat down by the well.” No, the text says, “Jesus now and forever spent with labor, faint from weakness, sat down.” He can’t take another step. He is not just tired but done-in. Remember this is God in flesh and blood. The all-powerful God who never sleeps, tires, or gives out. But as a Man, Jesus is keeping the Law in place of all mankind. And as a Man who is God, He’s carrying Jolene’s griefs and sorrows. Oh she puts on a good face especially for a stranger who knows nothing about her at the well when no one is there to expose her. Do you see her face fall when Jesus brings up her living in sin? Do you sense her shame? Do you see how she will praise Jesus as a prophet rather than talk about her sin or sinfulness? During Lent Jesus would talk about our sinfulness. But know this: though it’s more on our minds during penitential seasons, it’s not so for Jesus. When we confess our sins, we’re not telling Jesus what He doesn’t already know, hasn’t always known.

God can remember mercy and wrath at one and the same time without conflict. But His glory is in always having mercy. He can do this because Jesus covered with the sin and guilt of all humanity though absolutely the perfect Son in thought word and deed will not be mercied at all. Think of the little puppy, the cute kitten, any small, innocent young animal. This is how Jesus really was in the scales of God’s justice before the bar of Judgement. And yet the Father saw your sins. Felt His wrath rage at the umpteenth time you broke your promise, and the casualness with which you do sin, and He demanded Jesus drink the whole cup of His wrath. He insisted that His only beloved Son who did nothing but please Him nevertheless suffer hell for all humanity. Jesus can promise living water, eternal life to Jolene here because He’s going to thirst and not be satisfied. He can promise her eternal life by His Spirit because He’s going to win the right by His holy living and guilty dying to pour out the Spirit on her, on you, on me, on every sinner. 

Surely, you’ve wondered as have I, how did Jolene live the rest of her life? What about the denying Peter, the doubting Thomas, the murdering Paul? Weren’t they shadowed by their great sin and guilt forgiven though it was? You going to tell me that no one at any time threw their past in their face? They confronted someone with their sins, and since the Law works wrath, surely somebody replied, “Well, Peter, at least I didn’t deny my Savior 3 times.” “Don’t throw stones Tom; I’ve never doubted God’s Word.” “And don’t tell me Paul that I’m a rageaholic; I’m not a killer of Christians.”

What’s the answer to these sorts of confrontations especially when they’re not external but internal? Think how much God in Christ paid, how much pain, suffering, hell He went through, so you wouldn’t have to wallow in your sins and guilt. Be like the guy who in the relatively early years of IBM cost the company 2 million dollars. When confronted by the president with his egregious mistake, said, “I suppose you’ll want my resignation.” The president said, “Are you kidding? We just spent 2 million dollars training you!” Jesus spent way more saving you. Amen 

Rev. Paul R. Harris

Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas

Second Sunday in Lent (20230305); John 4:1-42