Friday, October 19, 2012

A Month of Miracles Part 13 - Healing the Paralytic at the Pool of Bethesda

Title: Christ Healing the Paralytic at the Pool of Bethesda
Artist: Bartolomé Esteban Murillo
Medium: Oil on Canvas
Size: 237 x 261 cm
Date: c. 1667
Location: The National Gallery, London.

John 5:1-15 - Some time later, Jesus went up to Jerusalem for one of the Jewish festivals.  Now there is in Jerusalem near the Sheep Gate a pool, which in Aramaic is called Bethesda and which is surrounded by five covered colonnades. Here a great number of disabled people used to lie — the blind, the lame, the paralyzed. One who was there had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, “Do you want to get well?” The invalid replied, “Sir, I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me.” Then Jesus said to him, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked. The day on which this took place was a Sabbath, and so the Jewish leaders said to the man who had been healed, “It is the Sabbath; the law forbids you to carry your mat.” But he replied, “The man who made me well said to me, ‘Pick up your mat and walk.’ ” So they asked him, “Who is this fellow who told you to pick it up and walk?” The man who was healed had no idea who it was, for Jesus had slipped away into the crowd that was there. Later Jesus found him at the temple and said to him, “See, you are well again. Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you.” The man went away and told the Jewish leaders that it was Jesus who had made him well.

Jesus took the initiative by seeking from the paralytic a desire for healing and then granting it, though the man misunderstood what Jesus could do for him and made excuses for his continuing illness; the pool of Bethesda was periodically visited by an angel, and whoever first stepped into the water after this visit would be cured of illness. That the cured man carried his mat is no incidental detail. It was, of course, solid evidence that he had been cured. But it is also important to what follows; for, as the text stresses, it was a visible violation of Jewish law. When accosted, the former invalid absolved himself by casting the blame onto the one who had healed him, but he was at that time still ignorant of Jesus' identity.

Bartolomé Esteban Murillo (December 1617 – April 1682) was the leading painter in Seville in the later 17th century. He remained one of the most admired and popular of all European artists in the 18th and early 19th centuries. His early works were much influenced by the early works of Velázquez, executed before Velázquez left Seville in 1623, and by the paintings of Zurbarán. This painting was made for the church belonging to the hospital of the Caridad (Charity) in Seville. The Caridad was a charitable brotherhood dedicated to helping the poor and sick of the city. Murillo was himself a member of the brotherhood. Murillo painted six large pictures for the church representing six of the seven acts of charity.

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