In today’s gospel we have the story of Bartimaeus, the blind man who was healed by Jesus as he left Jericho. This panel shows a similar miracle from John’s Gospel: the healing of the man born blind (John 9:1-12). It takes place in Jerusalem. Jesus anoints the man’s eyes with clay and saliva and then sends him to wash in the Pool of Siloam. When the man does so, he is able to see. The disciples are looking on as he anoints the man’s eyes. The man has a firm grip on the stick with which he would have made his way along the Jerusalem streets, which are shown in the background. This panel is from the Predella of Duccio’s great Altarpiece, known as the Maestà, which was made for the Cathedral of Siena. The streets shown in it and, indeed, the man himself, could be from the Siena of Duccio’s day. On the far right, the man has reached the Pool of Siloam, which is not unlike a contemporary street fountain. The man has dropped his stick and, with one hand still in the water, he raises the other and looks heavenward, giving thanks and praise for the gift of sight. One hand speaks of the waters of baptism, the other of faith. The two images of the man both facing Jesus and facing away from Jesus look odd, until you are told that in the original arrangement of the panels of the Maestà, the man is looking towards another panel showing the Transfiguration. This man comes to see Jesus, not just as a healer, but as the Son of God. When the disciples first see the man born blind Jesus says that he is there so that “the works of God might be made manifest in him.” (Jn 9: 3) The man, both in his blind state and in sight, faces towards Jesus, but the change in direction is also the change from seeing nothing to beholding the light of divinity. In blindness the man faces the natural light coming from the left. At the pool he looks towards supernatural light. And it is only he who looks up towards the transfigured Jesus. It is about his coming to faith in Jesus. In this very simple and direct way, Duccio shows us that these stories about the giving of sight to the blind are really about the gift of faith, which is a work of God in us and for which we must give him thanks and praise.
The Catholic Chaplaincy serves the students and staff of the University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh Napier University and Queen Margaret University.
The Catholic Chaplaincy is also a parish of the Archdiocese of St Andrews and Edinburgh (the Parish of St Albert the Great) and all Catholic students and staff are automatically members of this parish.