One of my favorite lines from the story of the Samaritan woman at the well is her comment to her friends from the town after meeting with Jesus. “Come and see a man who has told me everything I ever did”. I like it because it shows a really unique trait of a newly converted person. Can you not see something odd in her words? Jesus just told her that she has had five husbands and is now living with a man who is not her husband. It seems to me that a more normal response to a prophet airing my dirty laundry would be: …to be upset…and reply with some insult or counter attack. I would say something like “Yes, you’re right…but let me tell you what losers all of them have been and how they abused me.” Or perhaps one could say: “You got a lot of nerve…stop sticking your nose into other people’s business.” But this is not at all the attitude she brings to her friends. Her words reveal a sense of hope (even pride). She isn’t embarrassed…but rather…excited about the whole encounter with Jesus. This is what is most refreshing about our “conversion” stories.
The Samaritan woman is a good example…like many of the saints…who speak about their previous lives as if they were talking about someone else. We can take this to heart too. Theologically speaking, this fits into the Catholic doctrine of grace. Baptism speaks of coming out of the water as a new man/woman. We are not just the same old fellow with all our bad habits and sinful inclinations covered with grace as a dung heap covered with snow (as Martin Luther so poetically taught). A convert (a true convert) is literally a new man. I think this is why I have always enjoyed convert’s stories like Scott Hahn or Jeff Cavins.
I have found new converts to the faith are frank about their faith journey and enjoy telling their story. Yet, the “cradle Catholic” tends to be turned off by their “witness”. And, can intimidate new members to the faith. Why is there fear in the heart of a newly converted speaker? It’s because of you and me. Let’s face it, generally you and I make up a pretty tough audience. We cannot be too easily convinced of a genuine conversion. We’ve heard too many converts revert to their old bad ways. But none of this enters the Samaritan woman’s report. She loses herself and her sense of shame in the amazing grace of Jesus Christ.
For you and me, I believe this means two things: First, we can and should speak of our lives from time to time as the “old me” and the “new me”. If most of us are honest, we must give greater credit for our “goodness” to the grace of Jesus. If we can say: “my life is so much better now, thanks to the grace of Jesus”…then we teach others a great lesson of our faith. Secondly, we should, like the Samaritan woman, lose ourselves in the awe of Jesus. His story is so much more important than ours. It’s something like not taking ourselves too seriously. She was humble enough to say, “My pitiful life story is not the standard for the world to follow. Follow me when you see Jesus in me, but don’t if you don’t.” This new attitude in the Samaritan woman is good enough for me to say that she was a genuine convert. I’ll bet she lead many people to be Christian after the resurrection. Shouldn’t we try to do the same?