This little canvas is a study for a great work of art, the brushstrokes like a snapshot of genius. All is encapsulated here, the composition as well as the artist’s principal theme: that look exchanged between Jesus and the Samaritan woman. While his disciples take offense that Jesus should even be talking to a woman (Jn 4:27), the painter dares offer for our contemplation precisely that one-on-one encounter of gazes between our Lord and this woman. Though obviously free of lust, it is a look whose depiction, exactly because we might find it troubling, invites us to reflect on the nature of our own point of view. “If you look at a woman with desire, you have already committed adultery with her in your heart” (cf. Mt 5:28). Jesus came to restore relationships between men and women—not by freeing them from love, but by freeing them from sin. And he did so not by replacing one form of alienation with another: the healing of impure desire does not consist in shutting women away and hiding their face behind a veil; it consists in each of us sanctifying the way we regard others. Clearly, this freedom can only function within the terms of a restoration of the sanctity of marriage, as instituted by the Father from the beginning of time. For intimate relations between a man and a woman, while “very good” in and of itself (Gn 1:31), presupposes that, through love, spouses give themselves irrevocably to one another, to the point of renunciation of all others (Mt 19:12). For “they are no longer two, but the same flesh” (cf. Mt 19:6). And this to the extent that, at the Samaritan woman’s request, “Lord, give me this water that I may no longer be thirsty,” Jesus replies, “Go find your husband first and come back with him” (cf. Jn 4:15-16). Here is an echo of the final words of the Bible: “The Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come… Let he who thirsts, come; let the man who desires receive the life-giving waters, through grace’” (cf. Rv 22:17). Yes, the sacrament of marriage is indeed of infinite significance—for does not the same apply to Christ and his bride the Church (Eph 5:32)?
Christ and the Woman of Samaria (1763), Vinzenz Fischer (1729-1810), Museum of Fine Arts, Budapest, Hungary. © The MFA Budapest / Scala, Florence.