Week of Prayer for Christian Unity 2015: Day Four, “Then the woman left her water jar”

Jan 21st, 2015 | By | Category: Blog Posts

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?” Then the woman left her water jar and went back to the city. She said to the people, “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he?” They left the city and were on their way to him. (John 4:1-42)

This year’s week of prayer for Christian unity focuses on the text of John 4:1-42, a lengthy dialogue between Jesus and a Samaritan woman. During this year’s week of prayer for Christian unity, we read it with an eye towards how Christians might engage in difficult dialogue with one another. The Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity is responsible for this practice, and there is material published every year to help Christians to meditate on and to pray for unity.

The Samaritan woman came to the well for water. After her encounter with the Lord, she thought little of the water jar she had been so intent to fill only hours before. What happened? Her physical thirst, no doubt, remained. What was it that was so compelling about her encounter that she became forgetful of her important errand?

We know the answer is Jesus. He is a compelling man. But I think it’s also important to focus on the question. What was it, for this woman, that was so compelling about Jesus? Plenty of people hear about Jesus and His works, and they dismiss Him for one reason or another. So when one is compelled to love Him, it is worth asking the question…why?

Do we ever stop to wonder about, and ask this question of, those on the other side of the Tiber? For a while after my conversion, I did not. Or if I did, I quickly supplied an answer which knew too little and assumed too much about a lot of people I had never talked to. What would happen if we asked this question honestly – Catholics of Reformed Christians, Reformed Christians of Catholics – and listened patiently for an answer, without interrupting to pose our objections? And what would happen if we answered the question honestly, without feeling like we had to fend off all possible objections that our interlocutor might pose before she had a chance to pose them?

To give an example, I used to hear Reformed Christians speak about grace. They gushed about it, they sang about it, they asked for it in prayer, they ended sentences in ordinary conversation with it, they named their children after it, they explained all manner of events in their lives as evidence of God’s grace. As a member of those communities, however, I did not understand what grace was. I could not have defined it for you, nor could I point to an occasion when I had experienced it. I had experienced gratitude, need, remorse, love, providence, and any number of other things that seemed to be associated with it, but not grace.

As a Catholic, however, I now understand grace. Not only can I define it and describe it using the words of the Scriptures and the Catechism, but I can finally say that I know grace. And now that I know grace, I can understand why Reformed Christians would leave their water jars for it! As a result, I rejoice that my Reformed Christian brothers and sisters are compelled to give God praise and thanksgiving for His grace.

As I mentioned in the post on day one, there is the Catholic faith, and there is any individual Catholic, grasping at that faith and trying to conform his life to it. There is the Reformed Christian faith, and then there is the individual Reformed Christian, grasping at that faith and trying to conform his life to it. Many of the contributors and commenters here at Called to Communion are very knowledgeable about the Catholic faith and the Reformed Christian faith. But do we sometimes also stop to ask this Christian or that Catholic what has compelled Him to love the Lord? And do we listen closely for an answer, without preparing our objections ahead of time?

May we be anxious to find that which we share in common; those truths about Our Lord that have compelled us all to leave our water jars to follow Him.

Loving God, help us to learn from Jesus and the Samaritan that encounter opens for us new horizons of grace. In the name of Jesus we pray. Amen.


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