15 March 2020

‘There is no fear in love, but
perfect love casts out fear’

Water from a water jar at a well at Myli restaurant in Platanias, near Rethymnon, Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Sunday, 15 March 2020, the Third Sunday in Lent (Lent 3).

11:30: The Parish Eucharist (Holy Communion 2), Saint Brendan’s Church, Kilnaughtin (Tarbert), Co Kerry

The Readings: Exodus 17: 1-7; Psalm 95; Romans 5: 1-11; John 4: 5-42.

There is a link to the readings HERE.

The Samaritan woman at the well … an icon in the parish church in Aghios Georgios in Corfu (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

May I speak to you in the name of God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen

The Sunday Gospel readings in Lent introduce us to some interesting but outside characters:

We began (1 March 2020) with the Devil, who tempted Christ during his 40 days in the Wilderness (Matthew 4: 1-11).

Last Sunday (8 March 2020), we met Nicodemus who visits Jesus at night (John 3: 1-17) and eventually comes to full faith in Christ.

This morning (15 March 2020), Jesus meets the Samaritan woman at the well in Sychar (John 4: 5-42).

Next week (22 March 2020), we have a choice about meeting a blind man who is healed by Jesus at Siloam (John 9: 1-41) or, for Mothering Sunday, meeting the women at the foot of the Cross (John 19: 25-27).

Then, the week after (29 March 2020), Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead in Bethany (John 11: 1-45).

All these are marginalised figures in the eyes of the Gospel reader, from the devil to death, from being in the dark to being blind.

In this morning’s Gospel reading, the Samaritan woman is an outsider because of her gender, ethnicity, religion and lifestyle. Yet she becomes one of the great pre-Resurrection missionaries, for ‘many … believed in Jesus because of this woman’s testimony’

I heard years ago about a wedding that was about to take place, but the bride’s brother could not travel home to Ireland because of fears about something.

It was in the days before the fear of the Covid-19 pandemic. But it was also the time before texts and ’phone messages. He thought about sending a telegram, but did not know how to say something that was appropriate yet different. He asked his local vicar for a perfect, but short, Bible quote that could be sent in a quick telegram.

The vicar thought for a while before he suggested, ‘There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.’

So, he wrote down every word – and the reference, I John 4: 18 – and headed to the post office to send the telegram. But he was a bit of a skinflint and was taken aback when he was told he would be charged not just for each word but for each character.

Cost overcame filial affection, and he decided to just send the Bible reference and one extra word: ‘Read I John 4: 18.’

When it reached the Best Man, something had gone amiss, the number I was missing and the message said simply: ‘Read John 4: 18.’

At the wedding , the best man read out words we heard in this morning’s Gospel reading: ‘You have had had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband.’

I wonder how we would react or respond to the Samaritan woman in our Gospel reading this morning?

She is an outsider in very sense: she is a Samaritan, she works in the mid-day heat, she is unaccompanied, she has a very questionable lifestyle. As if to underline how marginalised she is, she is left without a name, without a name that identifies her as human, as a child of God.

In the Bible to be known by name is to be a child of God (see Exodus 33: 17; Isaiah 43: 1). So, let’s look at some details about this anonymous woman and her lifestyle.

She is a Samaritan, yet Christ constantly points to Samaritans as examples of how to live out a faith-filled life: the Good Samaritan (Luke 10: 25-37); or the healed Samaritan who is the only one among ten to go back and say thanks (Luke 17: 11-19).

She is a Samaritan, which means she is a monotheist, but people refused to accept Samaritans worshipped the same God – perhaps the parallel today is the way many Muslims face Islamophobia.

The conversation between Jesus and the Samaritan woman is a model for all our encounters with people we see as different, or as strangers, or as having a lifestyle we do not understand.

This woman is theologically informed, to the point that she is able to argue with Jesus: where should we worship God?

She may be well versed in Scripture: it has been suggested that Samaritans were Biblical fundamentalists who would only accept the first five books of the Bible as authoritative Scripture – is she wedded to those five books and not open to God’s continuing revelation?

She is confident in a way that she might be described in that English way as ‘gobby’ – not afraid to engage with men in conversation as an equal.

But let us also look at this woman’s lifestyle. We might try to calculate the number of men in her life. Verse 18 says she has had five. Then Jesus says, ‘the one you have now is not your husband.’ This brings the total to six.

Jesus at the well, Jacob’s Well, now becomes the seventh man in her life. Seven is the perfect number in the Old Testament. It is the number of completeness, wholeness, and healing.

The story also illustrates the status of women in that time, among both Jews and Samaritans. Without doubt, there was an imbalance of power when it came to marriage. Divorce was relatively easy for men, but practically impossible for women.

Even then, as I so often point out, the translation here is often very slipshod. The original text says: ‘For you have had five men [not husbands] (πέντε γὰρ ἄνδρας), and now the one you have is not your man.’

So, we cannot presume any marital status, or lack of marital status here.

Where else in the Gospels do we meet women who are in a similar dilemma?

In Saint Luke’s Gospel, we meet Mary Magdalene ‘from whom seven demons had gone out’ (Luke 8: 2). And Saint Luke’s Gospel (Luke 20: 27-38) also has the story of the Sadducees who posed the dilemma of a woman who is widowed in quick succession so she is married off to one brother after another, and when she dies she has been the wife and widow of seven men.

Once again, the priority of Jesus in that story is not morality or family property rights, but the right of the woman to her own integrity, her own inherit value, her own right to eternal life with equality in the eyes of God.

The woman who was married off to seven brothers never made herself the victim, never chose her own misfortune. She too is to be seen as a child of God.

Just as it was never a woman’s choice to be a widow, so it was generally true that it was never a woman’s choice to be divorced. At the time, women could often only acquiesce to what their husbands wanted to do.

In those days too, a woman who was divorced often ended up as being what was once spoken of as ‘damaged goods’. To this day, a divorced Jewish woman still cannot remarry without her former husband’s written permission, a controversial document known as the get (גט‎), which men may withhold as a means of controlling women.

Without that permission in first century Judaea, the prospects for a spurned and rejected women were dismal, financially and socially. For a divorced woman without a private source of income there were only two choices: remarriage or the streets.

This woman has been through the mill. Now she is living with a sixth man, even though they do not seem to be married.

Jesus offers no comment about her status. Instead, he treats her with dignity and respect. On that day, indeed, he is outrageous in transgressing the taboos of the day: a Jewish, single man, speaking to a multi-married, Samaritan woman in public; a rabbi discussing fine points of theology with a woman.

He could have condemned her lifestyle. Instead, he meets her deepest needs in her heart.

He is the seventh man in her life. He is perfect. Jesus is the man she has been looking for her whole life. Jesus is her living water. Jesus heals her heart. Jesus completes her creation. Jesus is her sabbath rest.

When the woman says she is waiting for the coming of the Messiah, Jesus tells her: ‘I am he.’

Just then, the Disciples return from their search for food in Sychar, although they may have come back with nothing. They are taken aback by the conversation they come upon. They are so shocked by what they see and hear that remain silent. Their silence reflects their inability to reach out to the stranger.

These men made no contact with the people in Sychar, but this woman rushes back to tell them about Jesus. No one in the city was brought to Jesus by the disciples, but many Samaritans listened to what the woman had to say.

Because of this woman’s testimony, many of the people in Sychar believe, she brings them (literally) to Christ, and they come to believe for themselves that Christ is ‘truly the Saviour of the world’ (verse 42).

And so, may all we think, say and do be to the praise, honour and glory of God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

This sermon was prepared for the Parish Eucharist in Saint Brendan’s Church, Kilnaughtin (Tarbert), Co Kerry, on Sunday 15 March 2020 (Lent III), but the church has been closed temporarily because of the Covid-19 or Corona Virus pandemic

‘Then the woman left her water-jar and went back to the city’ (John 4: 28) … water jars by a well in Argiroupoli in the mountain in Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

John 4: 5-42 (NRSVA):

5 So he came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. 6 Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon.

7 A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, ‘Give me a drink’. 8 (His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.) 9 The Samaritan woman said to him, ‘How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?’ (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.) 10 Jesus answered her, ‘If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, “Give me a drink”, you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.’ 11 The woman said to him, ‘Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? 12 Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?’ 13 Jesus said to her, ‘Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, 14 but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.’ 15 The woman said to him, ‘Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.’

16 Jesus said to her, ‘Go, call your husband, and come back.’ 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 have now is not your husband. What you have said is true!’ 19 The woman said to him, ‘Sir, I see that you are a prophet. 20 Our ancestors worshipped on this mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.’ 21 Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22 You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. 24 God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.’ 25 The woman said to him, ‘I know that Messiah is coming’ (who is called Christ). ‘When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us.’ 26 Jesus said to her, ‘I am he, the one who is speaking to you.’

27 Just then his disciples came. They were astonished that he was speaking with a woman, but no one said, ‘What do you want?’ or, ‘Why are you speaking with her?’ 28 Then the woman left her water-jar and went back to the city. She said to the people, 29 ‘Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he?’ 30 They left the city and were on their way to him.

31 Meanwhile the disciples were urging him, ‘Rabbi, eat something.’ 32 But he said to them, ‘I have food to eat that you do not know about.’ 33 So the disciples said to one another, ‘Surely no one has brought him something to eat?’ 34 Jesus said to them, ‘My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work. 35 Do you not say, “Four months more, then comes the harvest”? But I tell you, look around you, and see how the fields are ripe for harvesting. 36 The reaper is already receiving wages and is gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. 37 For here the saying holds true, “One sows and another reaps.” 38 I sent you to reap that for which you did not labour. Others have laboured, and you have entered into their labour.’

39 Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, ‘He told me everything I have ever done.’ 40 So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them; and he stayed there for two days. 41 And many more believed because of his word. 42 They said to the woman, ‘It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the Saviour of the world.’

‘Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well’ … a working well gives its name to To Pigadi, a restaurant in Rethymnon in Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Liturgical Colour: Violet

The canticle Gloria may be omitted in Lent.

Traditionally in Anglicanism, the doxology or Gloria at the end of Canticles and Psalms is also omitted during Lent.

Penitential Kyries:

In the wilderness we find your grace:
you love us with an everlasting love.
Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

There is none but you to uphold our cause;
our sin cries out and our guilt is great.
Christ, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.

Heal us, O Lord, and we shall be healed;
Restore us and we shall know your joy.
Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

The Collect of the Day:

Merciful Lord,
Grant your people grace to withstand the temptations
of the world, the flesh and the devil
and with pure hearts and minds to follow you, the only God;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Lenten Collect:

Almighty and everlasting God,
you hate nothing that you have made
and forgive the sins of all those who are penitent:
Create and make in us new and contrite hearts
that we, worthily lamenting our sins
and acknowledging our wretchedness,
may receive from you, the God of all mercy,
perfect remission and forgiveness;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

This Collect may be said after the Collect of the Day until Easter Eve

A Prayer in the Time of the Coronavirus:

Almighty and All–loving God,
Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
we pray to you through Christ the Healer
for those who suffer from the Coronavirus Covid-19
in Ireland and across the world.

We pray too for all who reach out to those who mourn the loss
of each and every person who has died as a result of contracting the disease.

Give wisdom to policymakers,
skill to healthcare professionals and researchers,
comfort to everyone in distress
and a sense of calm to us all in these days of uncertainty and distress.

This we ask in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord
who showed compassion to the outcast,
acceptance to the rejected
and love to those to whom no love was shown. Amen.

Introduction to the Peace:

Being justified by faith,
we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. (Romans 5: 1, 2)


Through Jesus Christ our Lord,
who was in every way tempted as we are yet did not sin;
by whose grace we are able to overcome all our temptations:

The Post-Communion Prayer:

Lord our God,
you feed us in this life with bread from heaven,
the pledge and foreshadowing of future glory.
Grant that the working of this sacrament within us
may bear fruit in our daily lives;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.


Christ give you grace to grow in holiness,
to deny yourselves,
and to take up your cross and follow him:


330, God is here! (CD 20)
425, Jesus, thou joy of loving hearts (CD 25)
576, I heard the voice of Jesus say (CD 33)

A hidden well and pitcher in a colourful side alleyway near the Institute for Mediterranean Studies in Rethymnon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

Material from the Book of Common Prayer is copyright © 2004, Representative Body of the Church of Ireland.

An icon of the Samaritan Woman at the Well above a well in the cloisters of Arkadi Monastery in Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

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