I was never a student at the University of Notre Dame, but there is a bronze sculpture on campus created by sculpture Ivan Mestrovic, a Croation who created this bronze in 1957. It depicts the encounter between Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well. You see the Lord look straight at the woman. The woman is looking down clutching her pottery jar tightly. We know it is mid-day an unlikely time for a woman to draw water at a well. There is an ironic element, the scripture tells us she was married five times, highly unlikely for a Jew, possible for a non-Jew. And her current live-in has not married her. Yet, here is a tired and thirsty Jew, asking her, a woman for a drink. Apparently from her bucket. No wonder she is looking downcast.
This statue freezes time in that moment. Listening carefully to the Gospel Jesus doesn’t stop there, he gently probes and speaks with her until she opens up and probably lifts her head. He holds out to her an abundance of the water of life, the life giving graces that come from God. Willingly she takes a drink to satisfy her inner thirst.
After receiving this gift, she drops her vessel (which she was holding onto so tightly) and runs back to her village to tell the news about the stranger. When she comes back, she doesn’t bring a water jar; she brings her whole village.
Looking at this piece of art, people look at spaces, not just the objects. We can notice the space between the two figures and notice there is tenderness in the space, not judgement or condemnation. Some people are preachers, some are teachers, some are disciples. Whatever our ministry in life, when we try to help people come to God, it is in that tenderness that crosses divides. More important than words, come into the space with gentleness. Living water will flow.
These thoughts come from John H. Barker, OFM and Karla Bellinger who are coauthors of “Living the Word” published by World Library Publications.