Freed from Shame

March 12, 2023 homily on John 4:5-42 by Pastor Galen

This morning we are going to dig into this story of one of the first evangelists in the New Testament – the woman from Samaria who has a transformational encounter with Jesus at a well, that leads her to bring her whole village to Christ. But before we do, we’re going to look a bit at the life of St. Patrick, whose feast is celebrated this week – and then we’ll explore some of the parallels between the life of St. Patrick and the Samaritan woman.

St. Patrick

Patrick, known to us as St. Patrick, was born in Great Britain around the year 386. At the age of 16, he was kidnapped by Irish raiders and taken away as a slave to Ireland, where he was held in captivity and forced to work in the fields as a shepherd. After being enslaved for 6 years, Patrick heard a voice telling him that it was time for him to go home, and that his ship would be ready. Patrick escaped from his slavemaster, traveling 200 miles over land, 3 days by ship at sea, and then 28 days through what he would later refer to as a “wilderness” before finally making it home. 

During his enslavement in Ireland, Patrick leaned into his relationship with God and experienced a conversion in his faith. While enslaved, he relied heavily on prayer, and learned to listen to God’s voice. After returning home, Patrick continued to nurture his faith through prayer and theological study. After some time, he had a vision in which an Irish man appeared to him and handed him a letter. As he read the letter, he heard the people of Ireland calling out to him, saying, “We appeal to you, holy servant boy, to come and walk among us.”

Believing this vision to be a calling from God, Patrick returned to Ireland as a Christian missionary, where he shared about the love of God with the very people who had at one time enslaved him. Patrick’s ministry flourished, as over the course of his lifetime he baptized thousands of people, and eventually became a Bishop in the Church.

Patrick’s story is an amazing example of receiving and extending God’s lavish and abundant love – even to those who had previously held him in captivity.

The journey that took a lifetime for St. Patrick happened over the course of just a few hours for the woman in Samaria here in John chapter 4. She too experienced God’s love and grace and forgiveness in a powerful way that led her to go back to the very same people who had previously held her in captivity – though she had been held captive not with physical chains, but instead with feelings of shame. 

Shame Vs. Guilt

Author Brené Brown has done a lot of research and writing about something that all of us probably know instinctively – and that is that there is a profound difference between shame and guilt. 

She says, “I believe that guilt is adaptive and helpful—it’s holding something we’ve done or failed to do up against our values and feeling psychological discomfort.

“I define shame as the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging—something we’ve experienced, done, or failed to do makes us unworthy of connection. I don’t believe shame is helpful or productive. In fact, I think shame is much more likely to be the source of destructive, hurtful behavior than the solution or cure.

So, guilt is when we feel bad because we have done something wrong or failed to do something good. Shame is when we feel like we are bad – either because of what we’ve done or failed to do, or what’s been done to us.

The Samaritan Women

Now, I know that we are accustomed to viewing the Samaritan woman in John chapter 4 as a sort of loose woman – that she was in many ways “guilty.” After all, Jesus states that she had been married 5 times, and she was currently living with someone who was not her husband.

But one thing we have to understand is that in that society, women didn’t have the power to divorce their husbands – women had very little power in society, in fact. So the fact that she had been married five times means that either all of her husbands had died, or five different men had married her and then divorced her against her will – or some combination of the two. Either scenario would have been traumatic, and would have led to endless gossip and condemnation from the other villagers, as they most likely would have assumed that she was the one to blame. And very likely, she internalized that shame, believing that there must be something inherently wrong with her.

But we must also understand that it was pretty much impossible for women to live independently in that society, since they had so few rights. So, the fact that she was living with someone who was not her husband was more so an indication of her desperation and destitution, rather than a statement about immorality – and she seems to receive it as such, as we’ll see a little later. (In fact, it’s possible that she had simply been taken in by an older male relative – like how Esther was taken in by Mordecai in the book of Esther – since Jesus’s statement is a bit ambiguous, and he does not tell her to “go and sin no more,” as he does to the woman caught in adultery in John 8).

But no matter whether her situation in life was a result of tragedy or personal choices or wrongs that had been committed against her, it’s same to assume that the she was treated as a social outcast, since why else would she have come to the water to draw well at noon, in the heat of the day, rather than in the cool of the morning when the other women of the village would have gone together to draw water? In all likelihood the constant disapproving looks and endless gossip from the other villagers were why she chose to come to the well at the time of day when she assumed no one else would be around.

But there was someone there – Jesus, and although she had never met him before, he knew all about her, and yet he didn’t reject or condemn or avoid her. He knew that she had had 5 husbands, and that she was now living with someone who was not her husband. But Jesus’s statement does not serve to deepen her sense of shame – rather she receives it as an affirmation that she is seen and known by Jesus, and it actually seems to free her from feelings of shame.

In fact, after her exchange with Jesus, in which he reveals to her that He is the Messiah she rushes back to the village, leaving her water jar behind, proclaiming, “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! Could this be the Messiah?” (John 4:29). Jesus’s love and acceptance of her seems to free her from her bondage to shame, from feelings that there is something inherently wrong with her, and she willingly goes back to the very same people who had previously ostracized and criticized her, sharing with them the Good News that the Messiah has come. 

That day many of the villagers came to faith in Christ because of the woman’s testimony, and because she, like St. Patrick, was willing to extend God’s love – even to the very same people who had caused her so much pain. 

“Free Us for Joyful Obedience”

In the stories of St. Patrick and the Samaritan woman we see the power of the

Gospel of Jesus Christ to bring freedom to those who have been held captive. We see the transformative power of the cross, which brings healing and forgiveness and freedom from shame. And we see the power of God’s love, which compels us to extend grace and mercy even to those who have wronged or mistreated us.

Jesus himself modeled this for us, when from the cross he uttered the words, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). Jesus forgave the soldiers who whipped and scourged him, the religious leaders of his day who rejected him, his own disciples who abandoned or betrayed him, and all those passersby who scorned and mocked him while he hung from the cross. 

And he offers freedom and forgiveness to us as well. Even when we have not loved God with our whole heart, when we’ve failed to be an obedient church, and not done God’s will, when we’ve rebelled against God’s love, and not loved our neighbors and not heard the cry of the needy – Jesus forgives us and frees us from guilt and shame. 

In our Prayer of Confession we regularly ask God to, ”free us for joyful obedience through Jesus Christ our Lord.” And Jesus does just that – freeing us from the power of guilt and shame, so that we too can be agents of healing and grace to others. That is indeed the good news: that Christ died for us while we were yet sinners, and that indeed provides God’s love toward us. 


I don’t want to give the false impression that everything magically changed overnight for St. Patrick or the Samaritan woman – and the going may not always be easy for us either. Despite the overall numerical successes of their ministries, there were no doubt people who did not receive Patrick or the Samaritan woman with open arms. 

Tradition has it that when Patrick first landed back in Ireland – at the very port where he had escaped on the ship years earlier, that he was not welcomed by the locals and was forced to leave and seek a more welcoming landing place further north.

Throughout his life and ministry, his refusal to accept gifts from kings placed him outside the normal ties of affinity, and as a foreigner that left him very little legal protection. He was on one occasion beaten and robbed of all he had, and put in chains – although he was eventually freed.

Although the Samaritan woman successfully brought her whole village to hear Jesus, the Scriptures tell us that “many” believed – rather than all. It’s safe to assume that there were still some in the village who held her in low regard. And even if attitudes in her village changed, she was still a woman from the land of Samaria, which meant that she would have continued to face the negative stigmas and stereotypes people held towards women and Samaritans in the broader culture in that day and age. 

And yet, both St. Patrick and the woman from Samaria knew that they were accepted and loved by God, and that freed them to love others – even those who rejected or mistreated them.

May we too experience the healing and transformative power of God’s love. May we know that Jesus knows all about us – and loves us despite what we’ve done or failed to do. When he looks at us, he sees a beloved child of God, and he wants us to be free of the power of shame and of guilt. And so may we receive that love, may we know that we are known and loved, and may we experience freedom and empowerment to extend God’s love to others as well.


Published by Galen Zook

I am an artist, preacher, minister, and aspiring theologian

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