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Transformed into Joyful Witnesses

by Dr. Mary Healy

Scripture has much to teach us about how the Lord transforms ordinary people into joyful missionary disciples. The story of the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4 is a classic example. The woman comes to the well simply for her daily task of drawing water. But when she encounters Jesus, he engages her in conversation and offers her living water that will satisfy her deepest thirst.

She is curious and intrigued. As the conversation goes on, Jesus exposes areas of sin and woundedness in her life: You have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband (Jn 4:17-18).

Yet, looking into his face, the woman sees no condemnation, only a depth of love and mercy she has never experienced before. By the end of their encounter, she forgets all about her bucket because she has now drunk of the living waterthat water that John later tells us is nothing other than the Holy Spirit (Jn 7:37-39). She runs back to her village, exclaiming to everyone who will listen, Come see a man who told me everything I have done! Could he possibly be the Messiah? (Jn 4:29).

The message of the woman at the well is obviously incomplete; it is neither eloquent nor theologically sophisticated. Yet it is spectacularly effective. What counts is the transformation and joy in her face that is evident to all those who see her. This formerly isolated, outcast woman is now forgiven, healed, and reconciled to God. So powerful is her living testimony that, as a result, the entire town comes to faith in Jesus (Jn 4:39).

The Acts of the Apostles gives us other keys to missionary discipleship. Luke shows how the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost transformed the early Christians from a frightened, uncertain band huddled behind closed doors to a team of joyful, bold, unstoppable evangelists (Acts 2). It was the Holy Spirit who enkindled evangelistic fervor and who initiated and guided every missionary endeavor of the church (e.g., Acts 8:29, 11:12, 13:1-4, 16:6-10).

At first, it was primarily the apostles who evangelized. But after the martyrdom of Stephen, Luke tells us that the Christians were severely persecuted and all were scattered outside Jerusalem, except the apostles. The lay Christians who were driven from the city, instead of lamenting their hardships and their loss of leadership, went about preaching the word (Acts 8:4). Trusting in God, they turned what at first may have seemed a terrible setback for the church into a great evangelistic opportunity, spreading the Gospel much farther than it had yet gone.

Luke also shows how the early Christians made it a practice to share with one another the results of their evangelistic efforts.

On a journey from Antioch to Jerusalem, Paul and Barnabas passed through Phoenicia and Samaria telling of the conversion of the Gentiles, and brought great joy to all the brothers (Acts 15:3). Sharing how our evangelization has led people to faith in Christ is a way of building up the church; it brings encouragement and helps arouse evangelical boldness in others.

After Paul and Barnabas arrived in Jerusalem, the whole assembly listened while they described the signs and wonders God had worked among the Gentiles through them (Acts 15:12).

Telling of the healings, miracles, or conversions God has worked through us is not a matter of boasting but of humbly giving glory to God and stirring up faith in our brothers and sisters. Paul and Barnabas were well aware that it was not they, but Christ in them, who had done these wonders. It is the same Christ, through the same Holy Spirit, who is powerfully at work in the church today.

Dr. Mary Healy

Dr. Mary Healy is associate professor of Sacred Scripture at Sacred Heart Major Seminary.

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Sacred Heart Major Seminary is a Christ-centered Catholic community of faith and higher learning committed to forming leaders who will proclaim the good news of Christ to the people of our time. As a leading center of the New Evangelization, Sacred Heart serves the needs of the Archdiocese of Detroit and contributes to the mission of the universal Church.