The Woman at the Well


The Woman at the Well, Gustave Doré, Mark Penrith

I’ve long been a fan of Gustave Doré illustrations. Here I’ve taken one of his sketches (The Woman at the Well; one of my favourite passages) and sooped it up a bit (David if you read this I’d be interested if your thinking has gone beyond music to other forms of art; I can’t get our last few line exchange out of my mind). I’m on holiday and not preaching this Sunday so I had a little time on my hands to experiment… What do you think? Is it a ja or nee? Click image to enlarge.

1 The Pharisees heard that Jesus was gaining and baptizing more disciples than John, 2 although in fact it was not Jesus who baptized, but his disciples. 3 When the Lord learned of this, he left Judea and went back once more to Galilee.

4 Now he had to go through Samaria. 5 So he came to a town in Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of ground Jacob had given to his son Joseph. 6 Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well. It was about the sixth hour.

7 When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, “Will you give me a drink?” 8 (His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.)

9 The Samaritan woman said to him, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.)

10 Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”

11 “Sir,” the woman said, “you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? 12 Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his flocks and herds?”

13 Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, 14 but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

15 The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.”

16 He told her, “Go, call your husband and come back.”

17 “I have no husband,” she replied.

Jesus said to her, “You are right when you say you have no husband. 18 The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true.”

19 “Sir,” the woman said, “I can see that you are a prophet. 20 Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.”

21 Jesus declared, “Believe me, woman, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22 You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. 24 God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.”

25 The woman said, “I know that Messiah” (called Christ) “is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.”

26 Then Jesus declared, “I who speak to you am he.”

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9 thoughts on “The Woman at the Well

  1. Do you know St Ephrem the Syrian’s poem on her? Beautiful.

    You probably don’t want to know my opinion of western religious art, and souped up versions of it in particular, and that would get quite long-winded! Actually, I quite like some of Doré’s stuff, but the fundamental problem is the subjectivism of the western approach – which of course goes back centuries…

    • Haha,

      I was rummaging around thinking about worship form and couldn’t articulate my thinking so I switched to art. As it turned out I may have made an error in judgement :).

      I would very much like to spend some time with someone from an Orthodox background who could familiarise me regarding appreciation for Eastern art. I got to be honest I don’t quiet get it.

  2. Well, from an Orthodox perspective, worship and art are very closely related. Art is not simply decorative or didactic (although it might also be that), but fundamentally doxalogical. And, like all worship, it has an objective character and is ultimately theological – Lex orandi, lex credendi, the law of prayer is the law of belief, as they say in the West. Thus just as there is a canon of Scripture, so there is also an iconographic canon that sets the framework and limitations of what and how we depict things and its basis is ultimately theological. However, this is not the abstract theology of the scholastics, but one in which all one’s senses lead one in and through words, concepts and images, to the point where these break down… to quote Evagrius, “The one who prays is a theologian and a theologian is one who prays.”

    I should probably be writing something about icons as part of a project I’m busy with, and will try and remember to let you know when I’ve done that. Icons can seem strange – and a little off-putting – to westerners, and that is perhaps not a bad thing; in fact I get concerned at some of the popularity of icons among western Christians. They are not there to look nice and friendly and to stir us emotionally, but to to express truth, albeit in a language that we may be unfamiliar with. Like Scripture, they are there to interrogate us and to lead us to repentance, worship and union with God. And that should, frankly, be a little terrifying!

  3. But there was good news for this Samaritan woman. The Father is seeking true worshipers, but he must first save them from their sins. Only such people can know God and be true worshipers.

  4. To begin with, there is worship, and then there is “true worship.” Jesus told the woman, “But the hour is coming, and now is, when true worshippers will worship the Father . . . .” What is Jesus saying? First of all, He is saying that “true worshippers will worship the Father.” True worship begins with who is being worshipped. It is not the worship of a mountain which is true worship. It is not the worship of tradition which is true worship. It is not the worship of my way, my will, my wants which is true worship. True worship begins at the foot of the throne of God. Second, Jesus is telling us that true worship ends at the foot of the throne. It is not God plus my denomination. It is not God plus the pope. It is not God plus the preacher. True worshippers worship God, and beside Him there is no other God.

  5. Webster’s Bible Translation But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshipers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him.

  6. II. Our second point of consideration–the OBJECT of Worship–is of more importance. Christ directs the thoughts of His interrogator to this matter, as if He understood that her object was not sincere religious enquiry. He takes her by the hand, as it were, and gently turns her in the right direction. The woman had altogether omitted the most important matter–the object of worship. It is very noticeable that she talked about her worshiping fathers and concerning worshiping Jews, but never once so much as mentioned the Deity to whom their vows were paid. Do you think it possible that she had the same idea which many people in these days possess, that is, that it does not much matter whom you worship, and how you worship, provided you are, as they say, sincere. Sincerity is no excuse for idolatry. That worship is pagan and profane which is not paid to Him who is the Living and true God.

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