16 Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come here.” 17 The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; 18 for you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband. What you have said is true.” (John 4:16-19 (ESV)
I contemplate this passage a lot these days. I’m struck by the compassion Jesus has for this woman. He offers her salvation. Here’s the deal. This is a pious lady, and evidently she is in some less than sanctified relationship with a man. It doesn’t say what that is. The tricky part here is there is no real word for husband in the Greek. The word translated husband is man throughout this text. Since they were her men, it is easy to translate that husband. But then the one you have now is not “your man,” or husband. He doesn’t belong to you, in other words. That is marriage, people belonging to people. Your wife is the woman who belongs to you. Your husband is the man who belongs to you. These are the people you belong with, with whom you have children that belong to you. In actuality we say very similar things today. She’s my woman. He’s my man. This despite American culture’s phobia of owning someone. But then marriage is not so much about owning someone else, as giving yourself to another.
American society has messed a lot of this sort of thing up. Marriage in our society is a huge mess. It was a huge mess long before gay marriage came along. When I heard gay marriage was going to destroy marriage, part of me began to support it. “Good,” I thought, “Maybe then we can begin from ground zero, take some stock in what is going on.” Of course it won’t destroy marriage, not any more than a myriad of other things that have come before. No fault divorce is the easy target. This is usually interpreted in court as man’s fault divorce. Sometimes it is, no doubt. But this predicament hasn’t improved men too much. It tends to make them a little reticent to get married when they know at any point this woman can walk away and they will be liable to alimony, and a division of property of 50%. And this punishment will be the same for them whether or not they were bedding the secretary at work, or whether or not they had been able to exercise carnal privileges in a loving relationship where two people gave each other over to one another in the last year. No, that one is the easy one. Then there are these societal quirks. Somehow, if you are a good boy and girl, you are supposed to go to college and get a degree before you get married, and all that time you are supposed to stay celibate? Some manage. But if they didn’t have the rare gift of celibacy, well they probably developed a neurological disorder along the way. Man wasn’t meant to be alone, neither was woman. You want to meet a mean spirited depressed jerk, talk to a guy whose only release for a year and a half, much less since adolescence to mid twenties has been Rosy Palm. And I don’t think we as a society have much of a right to look in wonder at teenage pregnancies and so forth. It’s not God’s design for people to be celibate into their mid twenties. It just isn’t. And the other half of society thinks they should have multiple partners. I know of a couple that let their son’s girlfriend move in with them. I was sort of shocked when I first heard of it. But the more I think on it, the smarter I think they may have been. Of course if they actually made the marriage legal they get penalized when it comes to school loans. Older couples today, face the same sort of thing with Social Security. Society has made marriage almost unaffordable for anyone but the working middle class and the upper classes. Then there are all these notions of romance, and soul mates, and bla. Quite frankly I think movies like “The Notebook” are more insidious to the notion of marriage than internet porn, which also poses it’s problems. And all that aside, here’s the deal, marriage is two sinners saying I give myself to you. It is two sinners trying to make a life together. It is two sinners trying to learn to love. “Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children,” (Titus 2:3-4 (ESV) Train the young women to love, the phrase sounds so odd to our ears. We hardly have a sense of this community anymore, which is probably why we have so many divorces too. A person can be trained to love, a person can learn to love. And evidently it was something that needed to be learned even in Paul’s day. The men too had to learn to love the women. Why? Because they are sinners, and love isn’t natural to sinners. Sin is from the devil, love is from God. Oh, people become infatuated easily enough. But loving? Well marriage puts love to the test. Two sinners sharing a bathroom, it isn’t a pretty picture. Where two sinners get together, there you have sin. They say there are no innocent parties in a divorce, that’s only because there are no innocent parties. No one is righteous no not one. Paul tells us in Romans. There are no innocent parties in a marriage. Two sinners finally became stupid enough to bind themselves together with a contract in the eyes of the state that no longer gives two kiting copulations if two people are married or not. I mean, your best bet is a prenup if you have anything to begin with.
So then this question rolls through my head over and over again as I contemplate what it means that the one she is now with is not her husband. Obviously she has had a one flesh union with the man. I don’t know if they are shacked up, or if she is a kept woman on the side. In any case, I get the impression that she is in a vulnerable situation. She’s been tossed to the curb five times, for whatever reason. Men are pigs, or can be. Divorce was as easy then as writing a note and the woman usually didn’t take anything. Women from poor families were especially prone to such abuse. If you were married to the town mayor’s daughter, you thought twice before divorcing. The man she is now with doesn’t want to be married, and she probably doesn’t care as long as she can sleep in a house and have a meal. Women find themselves in these situations. Jesus has compassion on them, just as he had compassion on this woman.