Christ Healing the Paralytic,
Painted by Anthony Van Dyck (1599-1641),
Painted in 1619,
oil on canvas
© Royal Collection Trust, Buckingham Palace, London
Jesus healing the paralytic
Jesus got in the boat, crossed the water and came to his own town. Then some people appeared, bringing him a paralytic stretched out on a bed. Seeing their faith, Jesus said to the paralytic, ‘Courage, my child, your sins are forgiven.’ And at this some scribes said to themselves, ‘This man is blaspheming.’ Knowing what was in their minds Jesus said, ‘Why do you have such wicked thoughts in your hearts? Now, which of these is easier to say, “Your sins are forgiven,” or to say, “Get up and walk”? But to prove to you that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins,’ – he said to the paralytic – ‘get up, and pick up your bed and go off home.’ And the man got up and went home. A feeling of awe came over the crowd when they saw this, and they praised God for giving such power to men.
Reflection on the painting
Our painting by Anthony Van Dyck is part of the Royal Collection. Van Dyck painted this when he was only 20 years old, already displaying his supremely brilliant painting skills. What was innovative at the time is the half-length figures depicted. Previously, most portraits were painted either showing head and shoulders only or else full length-figures, so this painting displaying half length figures was highly unusual and innovative.
The detailing of the paralytic man is beautiful. We can see his bodily imperfections such as the rounded back, gnarled muscle forms, raised veins and awkward physiognomy. Van Dyck's contemporaries would immediately have understood that this man was ill or paralytic. He is shown just after being healed, holding his blankets, and he is now moving from the darkness on the left of the canvas towards the light on the right, and towards the Apostle (probably St James) on the right. Both St James and the healed paralytic will now walk out of the canvas on their pilgrimage of following Christ…
In our reading today, Jesus does three crucial things in one: he confronts his critics at the start of our reading; he performs a miracle; and he proclaims the forgiveness of sins. His right hand in our painting is reaching out to us, the viewer, so we can be healed too.
When the paralytic man reached Jesus, the gospel reading says that Jesus 'saw their faith’, not the faith of the paralytic but the faith of those who carried him. We have indeed much to receive from other believers on our faith journey, as well as much to give. There is a poignant image here of who we are all called to be as church. In various ways we are to bring each other to the Lord. We never make our way to the Lord on our own.
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