Sunday, March 23, is the Third Sunday in Lent (Year A, Cycle II).
March 25 is the Solemnity of the Annunciation. This is the day we commemorate Jesus Christ joining the human family — as an unborn child. In fact, this is the International Day of the Unborn Child. Be sure to say the Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary today, even though it is a Tuesday, in order to celebrate the Incarnation.
“The example of a single extraordinary woman, Mother Teresa, did more for Christian witness in the 20th century than every theology department and political action committee put together.”
Ross Douthat’s words about evangelization in our day could apply just as well to the Gospel of the Woman at the Well: “The example of one convinced woman did more to evangelize a town than the Twelve Apostles could.”
Today’s Gospel explains how evangelization is supposed to work.
The Woman at the Well didn’t have any special training, she didn’t have any special strategy, and she didn’t have a team of helpers. But she converted a whole town, such that the people invited Jesus to stay with them for two days. Here’s how she did it:
First, she had a profound encounter with Jesus.
For her, this encounter happened at the well outside of town. Jesus took the initiative, asking her for a drink of water — but she kept herself open to him.
In the exchange that followed, he helped her see that what human beings really long for is eternal life, that God is loving and welcoming and that she needs to change her life. He also helped her see that he has a privileged view of the matter, such that she would eventually see how unique he is.
Second, she shares the joy of her encounter with others.
The Woman at the Well goes back to town and returns with many people. We are not told how she got her message out; we are only told what the message is: “Come see a man who told me everything I have done. Could he possibly be the Christ?”
She has found in Jesus an extraordinary person who does astounding things; but from the beginning, she sees the importance of encountering him for oneself.
“Come and see,” she says. To her, Jesus isn’t a great story everyone should hear about: He is a great man everyone should meet.
Witnessing her enthusiasm and hearing her message was enough to start a change in people: “Many of the Samaritans of that town began to believe in him because of the word of the woman who testified.”
Third, the townspeople learn from Christ, not her.
The Woman at the Well didn’t convert her townspeople. She didn’t share with them any special words that made them understand who Jesus was. She offered them her own witness and brought them to meet Jesus and see for themselves.
Once they had their own encounter with Christ, they were hooked — in fact, the Gospel says he spent two days with them.
“We no longer believe because of your word,” they said, “ for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the Savior of the world.”
In our own lives, we can find ways to follow the same process.
First, we must spend time with Christ. We need to have the same kind of deep encounter with him that the woman did. We can do it by drawing close to him at Mass, in Eucharistic adoration and in daily prayer.
Second, we must invite others to share our joy by meeting Jesus themselves. Evangelization should be more invitation than argument. We should invite people with, “Come and see” — to Mass and other activities.
Third, we must allow God to take over and deal with those people on his own. They are not our disciples; they are God’s — and we can trust that, once we introduce them, he will find the best way to guide them far more effectively than we ever could.
He does the same with us in prayer, showing us that he knows us deeply.
He knows what we truly want, and he knows how best to get us to fully be our true selves, united to him.
Tom and April Hoopes write from Atchison, Kansas,
where Tom is writer in residence at Benedictine College.