In scripture there are major encounters which help us to see how an encounter with Jesus can change us, change our hearts. This scripture passage is one, another is Zacchaeus in Luke 19:1-10; Woman caught in Adultery, John 8:1-11; Curing of the Blind Man in Mark 10:46-52.
Looking at the Samaritan Woman, she is a sinner and an outcast. We to are sinners and can feel like outcasts because of it. What can help us change? Only one thing, an encounter with Jesus where we allow ourselves to receive what he has in store for us.
Before we talk about what Jesus has for us, let’s look at the story. Jesus says, “go call your husband and come back,” it’s almost as if it is a test for the woman. She can deny the truth or not. She tells what I think is a half truth- but then seems relieved when Jesus tell her the rest of the story. Then she runs back to village and again seems happy to tell them that Jesus knew all about her. And of course, they knew all about her too, which is why she was alone at the well at noon. But she must have been so compelling and full of awe for having met Jesus that they too began to believe. So much so that Jesus stayed among them for 2 days.
So what gift does Jesus give her? Living water, which we all thirst for. Living water is the water of baptism, purification, a precursor to the Holy Spirit; it is life itself. You cannot survive without water, either the physical kind or spiritual kind. I want to pose to you that this living water is grace, because grace is what transforms us in our encounters with Jesus. We see certain things through our physical senses. We see water, feel it; we taste the Eucharist, we see it, touch it; we do not see grace, we only see what it allows us to do. So what is grace?
The Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us that there are many forms of grace: sanctifying or deifying (#1999), sacramental, and special graces known as charisms (#2003). Within sanctifying grace is “Habitual grace, the permanent disposition to live and act in keeping with God’s call and actual grace which refers to God’s interventions, whether at the beginning of conversion or in the course of the work of sanctification” (CCC #2000). Sacramental graces are those which we receive when one of the Church’s seven sacraments are conferred upon us. The grace is given, but it still requires acceptance on our part. Special graces are the gifts or charisms given to people to use to build up the body of Christ. Some examples are teaching and healing.
By God’s communicating with us and giving us grace “he makes man share in the very nature of God” (Rahner). The idea that grace is God’s self communication and that it allows us to share in his nature is what propels me forward every day. Grace comes to us not only through the sacraments but also through prayer and others’ responses to events in our lives. Grace is a transforming power if it is accepted; I often compare grace to strength, a power that enables you to do and say things you may not want to do based on external motives but know internally it is the correct path to take.
Through the grace we receive at Baptism we are ontologically changed to be radically configured to Christ and are now to act on our call as prophet, priest, and king. We are constantly receiving grace and it calls us to be changed, to be more radically configured towards Christ, to be more Christ-like and to share our grace with others as God does. The gift of God’s grace “reaches in Jesus Christ its eschatological, irreversible culmination towards which it tended from the start and throughout, and which determined and formed the basis of its whole course from the beginning” (Rahner). To call ourselves Christian, we need to act on grace.
To change our hearts we must first look at them, but maybe instead some people may find it more helpful to think about looking at our soul. What is there that needs to go? Are you thirsting for things which bring passing pleasure, but not lasting? When Jesus was tempted by the devil, he resisted because he knew that what his father offered was eternity, while the devil offered things which would pass away. If Jesus were sitting in front of you what sin would he want to root out from your heart? We all have sin. I hear people explain why they do not go confession. “Well, I really don’t do anything major that is wrong. I don’t kill, steal, I come to church, sure I yell at my kids, complain about my co-workers, nag my spouse, but that’s not really bad.” But it is, because it is a slippery slope from walking with Jesus and believing the precepts of our Church and not. The devil does not appear to us one day and say, come on, let’s let loose, but rather it is a slow process. The Samaritan woman did not have five husbands at once, but eventually she wound up branded by her village as an outcast and other women had little to do with her. That can happen to us, unless we are vigilant about walking on the narrow path.
That’s why we need each other, the Church, sacraments, prayer, scripture. All of these help us to live the way that is pleasing to God and ultimately good for us. Grace is there for all of us. The Eucharist is a constant source of grace in my life, it is the food Jesus talks about in this story, “I have food to eat of which you do not know, and my food is to do the will of the one who sent me and to finish his work.” (4:32, 34) At that point the disciples do not know about this food since the last Passover with Jesus has not yet happened. What a joy it is to receive this sacrament. If we look at the sacraments, three can be received more than once. Eucharist and Reconciliation can be had as often as you wish. Anointing of the Sick as often as necessary, when you are sick, need surgery, etc. But think about this, we have access to God’s mercy and grace in Reconciliation and then we have the that same grace in the Eucharist to help us stay the course. That is the purpose of those sacraments, to help us draw closer to Jesus by rooting out the sin that is in our souls, those thoughts and actions which prevent us from being one with God and each other and then the Eucharist sustains us.
There is a prayer I frequently say after I receive communion and at other times as well. It was written by St. Ignatius Loyola, founder of the Jesuits. It is called Dedication to Jesus: Lord Jesus Christ, take all my freedom, my memory, my understanding and my will. All that I have and cherish you have given me. I surrender it all to be governed by you will. Your love and your grace are wealth enough for me. Give me these Lord Jesus, and I ask for nothing more. The other day I was with a friend and we were discussing this idea of Jesus taking everything and giving us his love and grace. At first it seems unimaginable to do this, whatever will I hold onto, who will be in control, will God really be paying enough attention, maybe I should just give up this part, not all. But that is the point, if Jesus takes it all, but gives back his love and grace, what else do I really need. Nothing at all. Because grace is what propels me forward and gives me the ability to accomplish what God wants.
So the Samaritan woman receives the grace to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the one who will save. She takes no water from the well at all, just the water of Jesus’ words that fill her and take away her sin and shame. He is the water we all seek and he alone can fulfill out desires, quench our thirst. But first, we must empty ourselves of sin, by letting Jesus look at our soul and help us root out what needs to go, then we can be filled with grace and move forward on our journey of faith.