The encounter between Christ and the blind born man, the painting of a disciple of Caravaggio
As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth.His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”
Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him. As long as it is day, we must do the works of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”
After saying this, he spit on the ground, made some mud with the saliva, and put it on the man’s eyes.”Go,” he told him, “wash in the Pool of Siloam” (this word means “Sent”). So the man went and washed, and came home seeing. John 9.1-7
Blind at the time of Christ
In the East, at the time of the Hebrews and at the beginning of our era, blindness was very frequent. People had various eye diseases, especially because of the irritations by the fine sand of the desert. Since then, many of these diseases have been relieved or cured.
The blind were rescued by Jewish laws. But they often had to beg, and lived on the margins of society.
As for the blind by birth, God alone could restore their sight.
Nobody has ever heard of opening the eyes of a man born blind. John 9.32
Their cure was possible only by a miracle, a sign in the biblical sense of the term.
The miracle accomplished by Jesus is indeed the proof of his divinity, of his identity as Messiah, sent from God.
To interpret a miracle, seek the deep meaning of the sign.
Jesus, “the light of the world” (John 9: 5), gives a sign of his power over evil.
Jean points out
• the role of Christ as the “divine physician”: he applies a plaster of mud that he has made
• the immediate faith of the blind: he obeys the order given
“… that ye may believe and believe that ye have eternal life” (John 20: 3)
Intention of the evangelist
• to inspire faith in his readers
• to separate believers and disbelievers
• the camp of light and the camp of darkness.
Faith grows and develops in some, incredulity in others.
Miracles and meaning of the sign
• 1st sign, John 2. 1-12: the wedding at Cana
Jesus unveils his glory and inaugurates the messianic era: an endless wedding feast.
• 2nd sign, John 4.43-54: healing the son of a royal officer
People look for signs, but remain insensitive to the message of the sign
• 3rd sign, John 5: the sick of Bethesda
Jesus intervenes without this man having manifested faith.
• 4th sign, John 6: bread multiplication
“To eat” the bread of life, his flesh, “to drink” his blood = to believe.
• 5th sign, Jesus walking on the water
The work that God expects of us in order to give us life is to believe in Jesus Christ.
• 6th sign, John 9: healing a blind man
Do you believe in the Son of man?
Jesus saw, in passing …, so that he is born blind
Beliefs about the disease in the time of Christ, until the Middle Ages
Any illness or infirmity was seen as
• possession of the demon
• punishment of sins committed
For the disciples there is only one possible explanation
• either because of the parents’ sins, (Exodus 20: 5)
• or because of his own sins, even before his birth
The question of the disciples reflects a common opinion at that time
For the Jews every personal suffering is the punishment of personal sins.
Children inherit miscellaneous ills from their parents.
I punish the sons for the fault of their father, even to the third, even the fourth generation of those who hate me.
The child participates in original sin even before this birth. (Psalm 51: 7)
The idea that a child may sin before birth.This is how rabbis explain Genesis 22:25: the twins who fight in Rebekah’s bosom. But this is contrary to Paul’s assertion in Romans 9:11
The influence of Greek philosophy
In the 2nd century BC Israel was ruled by kings of Greek origin, successors of Alexander the Great. For fear or flattery, some Jews of the aristocracy had adopted the lifestyles and beliefs of the Greek occupiers. They also began to believe in reincarnation, in the pre-existence of souls.
According to these beliefs, one could suffer in this life the punishment of sins committed in a previous existence.
There is no basis in the biblical text for such beliefs
God has a plan that is fulfilled according to his free choice. This plan does not depend on the actions of men, but only on the will of God who calls. This plan works even before the birth of these children. Therefore, before they did any good or evil, God said to Rebekah: The elder will be subject to the younger.
Commenting the painting
Color used for the background of the painting
Characters on an ocher-brown sky. Color gradients.
No landscape diverts attention from the essential scene on the foreground
Let us separate by an oblique line the groups of the painting
Right group, bright colors./ Left group, dull colors
The twilight of the second plan emphasizes the light effects on part of the faces on the left the blind man’s shoulder
Light on the face of Christ and the right person.
Strengthening of the lighting: attitude of the blind
The three main characters, inscribed in an oval, are larger than life
Christ is highlighted :
• larger than others
• almost in the center of the canvas, tilted towards the blind
• unfastened dress
• blue cape draped around the hips and up on one of the shoulders.
Jesus answered, It is not that he or his parents have sinned; But it is so that the works of God may be manifested in him. I must do, while it is day, the works of him that sent me; Night comes, where no one can work.
Working and doing God’s works
The time of the present life.
Jesus and his disciples can work and do the works of God while they are alive.
During his earthly life Jesus must accomplish his work: to save the world by his sufferings and his death.
Then it is by the Spirit of God and through the ministry of his witnesses, the Christians, and his Church that Jesus will continue his work.
Jesus alludes to his coming death
The night comes for Israel
He came to his people as “the light of the world” (John 1: 1-18)
The day when we work is the time of our life, the night is death.
While I am in the world, I am the light of the world
A very relevant word
After saying this, he spit on the ground, made some mud with the saliva, and put it on the man’s eyes.
A gesture that evokes the Gospel
He bows towards the blind man and touches his eyes
A special cure
The blind man did not ask to have his eyes opened.
Jesus did not tell him that he was curing him
Christ sometimes heals by the word alone, sometimes by external means
Only one cure of this kind
Usually the Lord heals the sick simply by his creative word. In some, rather rare cases, he uses external means. Here he makes with his saliva a mud, which he puts as an ointment on the eyes of the blind man.
He does not always need the same technique
Matthew 8: 1-3: He touches the leper to heal him.
Mark 7:33: He touches the ears and the mouth of the deaf and dumb with saliva 8:23.)
A method perfectly adapted to what Jesus intends to do.
Jesus, undoubtlly thought that these means were necessary for the cure to take place. The miracle was always a supernatural act of his divine power.
According to most interpreters, Jesus wanted to put himself in a personal relationship with the patient. He wanted to inspire him with confidence, to awaken and at the same time, to test his faith.
Precision in the painting of the man in the foreground, at the right hand of Christ
A disciple: probably Peter, who is always represented aged on paintings
• In the foreground, standing in the same position as Christ
• Aged: high rounded forehead, stripped and wrinkled, bony hands, protruding veins.
• Light white highlights accentuate the folds of the skin.
• The sleeve of the white shirt is draped, very worked, catching the light.
• He holds his brown coat with both hands
How do the other characters participate in the scene?
A first one quite right, directs the gaze towards the outside of the painting.
It is undoubtedly
indifferent or incredulous
Another one in the shadow near the face of Christ.
He observes carefully :
a Pharisee wanting to sneak up on Christ
A third, scarcely visible, squatting between Christ and the blind :
a friend of the blind man
The blind man faced with Jesus
• Sitting, he presents his face to Him who heals.
• Hair held by a turban.
• Shirtless, grayish loincloth tied by a cord.
• Leaning on a stick, symbol of his blindness.
• Curve of his right shoulder, in the light, prolonged by his face inclined towards the hand of Christ
Jesus said to him, “Go, and wash yourself in the reservoir of Siloam.
He went, washed, and turned away, seeing clearly.
Jesus does not heal the blind man at once.
He sends him to the reservoir of Siloam (which means “sent”) at a certain distance
• The blind man can put his faith into practice
• He will not attract too much attention
In order that the blind man put his faith in practice :
To order the blind man to go and wash himself at the reservoir of Siloam was to exercise his faith while performing the miracle of his healing.
The source of Siloam had played a part in the ceremonies of feast days.
Read 2 Kings 5: 10-14: the healing of Naaman
To avoid attracting too much attention.
Jesus wants to keep this healing as private as possible. No one expects a miracle. No crowd follows the man to the pool of Siloam. When the man regains sight, a while later, Jesus has already left for a certain time.
Two other characters on the left :
One attentive, the other indifferent
Standing behind the blind man, a character with a wrinkled face, watches attentively the gesture of Christ.
The head of a young woman turns away from the scene.
Symmetry with the character looking outward quite to the right.
They are ordinary people and not idealized characters.
Bright and shimmering colors
Specific details in the faces, the hands and the torso of the blind man
The theme of the healing of a blind person is common in the 17th century
A miracle accompanied by a spiritual motivation`
Impossible if faith is lacking
Based on the hope of salvation
“The blind receive the sight” Isaiah 29:18
Importance of the anointing that takes place in public
The healing of the blind born, a miracle of Christ is performed in public, before witnesses. The painter thus represented several secondary characters in the second plane.