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Lent 3



One of the joys of being a priest is marrying people, and one of the joys of marrying people is hearing the story of how they met. In the middle of the twentieth century it is estimated that seventy percent of couples met at a dance hall. …. Railway stations were also popular, and always gardens; gardens, walks and parks…

We often forget that Lent is the story of Jesus our Lover. Jesus meeting us in our loneliness and rejection, and woo-ing us back to the arms of Love. The journey begins way back in the garden of creation, when humanity turns from Love in the fall. In the Garden of Gethsemane, Love gathers up the pain of humanity into its own heart. In the garden of the resurrection, Love calls our name, and gathers us into a new dawn, and the pledge of Ruth to Naomi is echoed by Divine Love– ‘my father is your father; my God, your God’.

Gardens, the place of lovers and loving.

The Lenten journey from garden to garden takes us via other romantic settings. In biblical times, if romance was to blossom anywhere other than in a garden, it was at a well. Remember Jacob drawing water for wife-to-be Rachel’s sheep? Moses doing the same for his wife-to-be, Zipporah? Wells were places where betrothals were made. Men drew water for women, taking them under their protection, and laying claim to them.

But here, at this well, in our story today, it is not Jesus who draws the water.

Here, the I AM of all creation begs for water from a broken woman; a no-one with no name.

It is the longest conversation recorded between Jesus and one other person. Jesus the Divine Lifegiver, and this woman who has had four husbands, who comes to the well in the full heat of the day to draw her own water in the relationship with the fifth, as only a poor, and possibly a shamed, woman would.  We don’t know whether her previous partners died, or divorced her, or why her current partner has not married her… but whatever the story, this was a woman who knew rejection, loneliness, isolation; a woman formed in the fires and furnaces of life, in the tears and the grit.

Interestingly, her sexual identity interests Bible scholars much more than it interested Jesus. He doesn’t begin with it, as we so often seem to. This Jewish rabbi sat with this woman and took seriously her mind, opinions, and questions, in a theological discussion. He treated her as someone with her own identity, her own potentiality. Jesus was simply saying “I see you. I know you. I know your story and I care about you”. Is it any wonder she could not stop talking about him? He reveals to her both who she is, and who she will become… a source of the waters of the life of God.

There, at the well, misery and mercy meet in love. And the product is life.

Jesus doesn’t draw water for the woman, claiming her as Moses and Jacob did their women; he asks her to draw it for him…. commissioning her. And he gives her the opportunity to ask him in return, offering himself to her, to empower her – the water of life.

“So he came” begins our reading today… that casual reference to a startling arrival. Jesus did not have to come… most Jewish people went round this village! But he came… and then he stayed. Accepting hospitality, making relationships, and then leaving the woman to carry on her evangelism and mission.

So he came.

And he comes.

Into our Lent. Into our desert, into our wilderness, into our garden, at the wells of brokenness, of loneliness, of seeking… he comes; ‘the love-maker’, as priest and wordsmith Jim Cotter so beautifully puts it.

And he stays … and gives himself to us in a deeper way than at any well before…. commissioning us with his life-giving spirit welling within us - the water of life.

In the orthodox tradition this nameless woman is named… she is known as Photine (from φως – light) and venerated as a saint.

Because from her darkness, great light shone. In her loneliness, the light of love. Photine, sourced and bearer of the sparkling waters of God.

Let us, this Lent, go down to the well, be unafraid to question and seek, and meet Love reaching back to us, oasis in the desert, teaching us how to draw, and share, his water of life.


  1. Jesus breaks all tradition to speak to Photine, and speaks to her in the midst of heat, hurry and exhaustion. Do we come to the well in the heat of the day, tired and weary? Do we make space to engage with, and respond to, the voice of Jesus in the unexpected, or where we are parched and weary?
  2. Where are our oases in the desert – where does Jesus meet us, and share with us his life-giving spirit? Where does he nourish and revive us?
  3. Where are the deep wells within ourselves that Jesus is revealing to us this Lent – our own abilities to bring and share love and life?
  4. How does Jesus challenge us to challenge our perceptions of others through this story? Or perhaps to challenge the narratives by which we define ourselves or allow others to define us? Or the structures of society?
Page last updated: Friday 3rd March 2023 2:20 PM
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