Art for the 4th Week in Lent, Year A
Commentary is by Daniella Zsupan-Jerome.
We enter into this fourth Sunday of Lent with the words of Samuel I telling us that, “not as man sees does God see.” At Mass, we then hear the story of Christ healing the blind man at the pool of Siloam. El Greco painted two versions of this story; here we explore his first rendition. Christ Healing the Blind tells the story but also reveals El Greco’s blossoming artistic vision. In this early painting, we observe El Greco learning to see with the eyes of an artist as he depicts perspective and the movement of bodies from all angles. Just as the blind man learns to see, El Greco is gaining his unique vision here.
Christ Healing the Blind presents two main groups of people: Christ healing the blind man on the left, and the Pharisees clustered on the right, suspicious and protesting. Front and center are the blind beggar’s meager possessions and a sniffing dog—perhaps his only loyal companion. Further back, two figures complete the circle, engaged in a pose of compassion and healing—God’s mercy juxtaposed with the confrontation below. Placing Christ and the Pharisees on the left and right is a point of irony: the Pharisees, who are assured of their right vision, are in fact blind to the truth unfolding before them, while Christ reveals the truth on the left. Behind the Pharisees a sky of swirling clouds reinforces their disarray, but Christ’s healing act takes place in front of a firm visual backdrop of stable architectural elements. Behind Christ, El Greco leads our eye to a vanishing point with a long row of arches, hinting that the sight Christ grants to the blind beggar is long-ranging and far. In contrast, the cluster of Pharisees obscures their own horizon, as their near-sighted vision lands on one another.
Finally, the four men gathered on the left seem unaware of what is going on. Here, El Greco inserts another kind of blindness: oblivion to grace unfolding before their very eyes. Their mild presence is perhaps more challenging than that of the Pharisees, who are lacking vision but not awareness.
This story invites us to open wider our eyes of faith and become aware of the merciful, healing grace all around us.