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Jesus and the Samaritan Woman at the Well
(Click to access the video on YouTube)

Artist: Kingsley Goonatilleke

One of the top-most artists in Sri Lanka, Kingsley Goonatilleke supervised the reconstruction of the Temple of the Tooth in Kandy after it was bombed by the Tamil Tigers. He was also involved in the restoration of the Temple’s artwork.  
The work was a
gift for Father Pieris on his his 50th anniversary of religious life (2003). The artist took ten years to reflect over the fourth chapter of John, making many sketches. He took two more years to make it. It was inaugurated in 2005.

Medium: clay

TRANSCRIPT

Jesus and Mary as Portrayed by Buddhist Artists
Part III: Jesus and the Samaritan Woman at the Well

Introduction
(The same introduction is included on all five videos in which Father Pieris describes Jesus and Mary as portrayed by Buddhist artists. It lasts one minute and forty-five seconds.)

These artistic works of Buddhists interpreting Christianity are based on a missiological principle which is the contrary of the traditional missiology. In the traditional missiology, the Church tells the Buddhist who Christ is. We do the opposite; we ask the Buddhists who Christ is. They tell us who Christ is, and in that dialogue they tell us not only who Christ is for them, but also who Christ is for us in Asia.This is a kind of dialogue with artists who believe in another religion but find Christ as an excellent object of artistic appreciation and of religious devotion.All these people who have made these depictions of Christ and Mary in murals, in clay, or in paintings have given us a message: if we want to speak of Christ, even among ourselves, there is a language to be used. And these Buddhists have given us the language. 

The statue behind us is made of clay. It’s a very difficult material to work on. It took many years to work on it, also to study the scriptural content of this message: the Samaritan woman meeting Jesus at the well, and Jesus asking for water. Here we show the Samaritan woman actually giving the water.  There is a symbol here which the artist and I after two years of dialogue and discussion of the scriptural text, came to realize [was necessary . . . as to]  how the scene should be depicted.

Now actually this probably never happened. John dramatizes the conversion of Samaria to Christ [which took place] after the resurrection. John has a way of dramatizing historical facts, which brings all the depth of meaning, which normally you don’t see in a narrative. Here it is not a bad woman who happens to meet Jesus, but it is “Miss Samaria” meeting her first love at a well. It’s a well-side wedding, because in the scriptures women who meet men at the well-side end up in marriage. I think John wants to show the remarriage of Samaria to God, to Yahweh. And this is the message that we tried to unfathom reading the fourth chapter of Saint John, the fourth Gospel.

Samaria had five shrines to false gods; it apostatized; it left Yahweh. So this scene brings back the conversion of Samaria in the person of this woman. The woman is shown to be giving water, actually, while Jesus is receiving the water bent down, with hands cupped. Now there is a historical background, an Asian background to this. In India and Sri Lanka, and India still, the low-caste people don’t drink water from a cup when they come, because they pollute your cup. So they pour water and they cup their hands and drink it. Now [that is] what we want to show here. The artist and I came to this conclusion: Here Jesus reveals himself as Yahweh in his humility; he becomes lower than the lowest. That’s typical of the God of the Bible.

I was inspired by a text in the Psalms [18:36]—in Hebrew—it speaks of Yahweh (or Ha Shem) תרבני ענותך  (anwatĕkā tarbēnî). It means: Yahweh, God, you bend down in humility before me, that gesture of humbleness, just to make me feel great. That’s what God does to us. We want to show that: the Samaritan woman, rejected, became someone because God was able to bend down, like a low-caste woman, lower than her, and asking for water and drinking in that manner to show that scriptural text in the Psalms, which the Greeks could not understand. They had another version: “With his powerful hand, he showed his might.” That’s how the Greek text [of the Septuagint], if I remember well, said it. There was power; here there is humility. The Hebrew text I take because it is the text that the Jews still pray with. So it is “Lex orantis; lex credentis.” This is the belief of the people of God, that God humbled herself before the humblest, so that with the humblest they could give us salvation.

Now I think that message is given very beautifully here, and also there is a way in which the bending of Jesus and the cupping of the hands create a new concept of God which is not found anywhere, a humble God,  because Jesus proved his divinity precisely by his humility. Our God is humble, and this struck the minds of everybody here, Christian and non-Christian. Here there is a God who is humble, God who joined the sinners and was baptized among sinners, God who in Jesus would be crucified with sinners. His first public act [baptism at Jordan] and his last public act [baptism on Calvary] was just a reflection of God who is humble. This is the message that is given through this statue.

 

 
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