Jesus and the Samaritan Woman
Alexandre Lettnin: Living Water
I Am the Living Water
by Marleen Hengelaar-Rookmaaker
Around the hot noon hour Jesus arrives at the Well of Jacob in Samaria, tired of the journey, hungry and thirsty. The disciples have gone into town to buy food. A woman comes to draw water from the well at a time of day when she knows for certain she will not run into the other women of the village. She avoids them, as they shut her out because of her reprehensible lifestyle. She too is thirsty.
At the well she meets a stranger, a Jew, an outsider just like her. Jesus asks her for a drink of water. The woman is surprised and tells him so. She does not mince her words: ‘How is it that you, a Jew, asks a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?’ They become involved in a deep personal and theologically tinted conversation.
The Brazilian artist Alexandre Lettnin (b.1971) has captured this encounter in a way totally his own, when he lived in Europe and felt lonely and quite unhappy there as a foreigner. Lettnin was moved by the loving attitude of Christ towards the woman: he knows her hardships, pain, weaknesses and sins and wants to free her from them.
Lettnin has reduced the setting of the conversation in his etching to its essence; we only see the woman, the well and Jesus. The woman is just a small and skinny little puppet who, suspicious and wounded as she is, keeps Jesus at a distance with her assertive questions. Jesus at the other hand bends himself towards her, full of attention, making an inviting gesture.
In the engraving Lettnin has opted for a ‘God’s eye view’. We see the scene from above, as God sees it from heaven. God sees us standing in the dark, while at the same time seeing the light he wants to lead us towards. That is what this biblical passage is about. For Jesus also sees this woman standing in the darkness and wants to draw her into the light. He sees what she is like, but also what she could be.
Jesus offers this thirsty woman a new life. He says: ‘The water that I give will become a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.’ In the print the water in the well reflects the light of the sky which contrasts with the dark that is enveloping the woman. At the same time we see the hand of Jesus mirrored in the water. The way to the living water and the light is a person, is Jesus himself.
Note that the well is circular, which refers to eternity - without beginning or end, always continuing. Thus life and death are juxtaposed: the woman with her hollow eyes and skull-like face over against the round well with Jesus’ welcoming hand above/in the water, which forms a passage to the light and eternal life.
This eternal life does not limit itself to a restored life in the far future, after our death, but also includes a new life here and now. Jesus offers healing to this woman and also to us: thirst quenching, purifying, abundantly bubbling water through which we can be become more and more like Jesus. At the end of their conversation the Samaritan woman has lost her fear and runs towards her fellow villagers to openly testify about the coming of the Messiah. No wonder the artist has suffused the print with a warm yellow glow.
See John 4:1-30.
Alexandre Lettnin: Living Water, Paris, 2000, etching and aquatint on Salland paper.
More information about Alexandre Lettnin can be found on www.lettnin.blogspot.com.
Marleen Hengelaar-Rookmaaker is ArtWay’s editor in chief.
For more materials for Lent, click here
More:- April 2023: Year A, Proper 17
- February 2023: Lent: James Janknegt: The Rich Man and Lazarus
- November 2022: Christmas - Brian Kershisnik: Nativity
- October 2022: Reformation Day: Luther and Durer
- June 2022: Michaelmas, September 29
- March 2022: Lent
- January 2022: The Speck and the Log
- November 2021: Advent - Care for the Earth
- September 2021: Year B, Proper 25
- May 2021: Year B, Proper 18 (Revised Common Lectionary)
- April 2021: Tim Rollins and K.O.S.: Seven Last Words of Christ
- February 2021: Year B, Lent 6: The Ointment of Nard by Arcabas
- January 2021: Year B, Epiphany 8
- December 2020: Advent: Butterfly
- August 2020: Year A, 21st Sunday after Pentecost: Psalm 1
- June 2020: A Year, 10th Sunday of the Summer
- May 2020: Pentecost: Donna Shasteen
- April 2020: The Scene in the Kitchen; Christ at Emmaus
- March 2020: The Seven Last Words of Christ
- January 2020: Year A, Epiphany 3
- November 2019: Edward Hicks: The Peaceable Kingdom
- October 2019: Reformation Day: Luther and Durer
- August 2019: Ordinary Time
- March 2019: Aaron Douglas & James Johnson: Listen Lord
- January 2019: The Speck and the Log
- December 2018: Botticelli: Madonna and Child, with Saints
- November 2018: Gor Chahal and Jan Krist
- August 2018: Year A, Autumn Sunday 8, Parable of the Talents
- May 2018: Ernst Barlach: The Believer
- March 2018: Easter: Grid Buster
- March 2018: Good Friday: I am Thirsty
- February 2018: Lent: The Rich Man and Lazarus
- January 2018: Third Sunday after Epiphany, Year B
- November 2017: Advent - Johannes Vermeer: Woman with Balance
- September 2017: A year, 6th Sunday of the Autumn
- August 2017: A Year, 10th Sunday of the Summer
- May 2017: Pentecost: Images for the Holy Spirit
- April 2017: Fra Angelico: Christ in Limbo
- February 2017: Roger Wagner: Lazarus (Psalm 49)
- January 2017: Gislebertus: The Dream of the Three Kings
- November 2016: Advent: Butterfly
- November 2016: Reformation Day: Luther and Durer
- September 2016: Reformation Day: Luther and Durer
- January 2016: 25 January - Caravaggio: The Conversion of Saul
- December 2015: Meditating on the Life of Christ
- November 2015: Gor Chahal and Jan Krist
- October 2015: Reformation Day: Luther and Durer
- August 2015: Ordinary Time
- June 2015: Van Gogh: The Sower
- December 2010: Advent - Until He Comes!