There is no sense of chronological order in the stories of Mark 2 and each one is introduced with a generic statement that sometimes states where Jesus was—Capernaum, by the lake, Levi’s house—but when and for how long isn’t even hinted at. In the story today, Jesus returns, unannounced to Capernaum, probably to the home of Peter and Andrew.
There are some ‘firsts’ in this story. 1) The use of the term ‘crowd’ to refer to the people who gather around Jesus and aren’t part of his closer group of disciples and friends. It’s a term used primarily to refer to the masses rather than the ruling classes; it can also have the connotation of ‘sinners and outcast’, which is how the religious leaders refer to the ‘crowd’ (as in 2:16). 2) The first verbal confrontation with the scribes. 3) The first time Jesus is accused of blasphemy. It is this accusation that the religious leaders will use in the end to condemn Jesus to crucifixion. 4) The first time Jesus uses ‘the Son of Man’ as a self-designation. Prior to Peter making the confession that Jesus is Messiah (8:29), ‘Son of Man’ is used only twice, here and 2:28. After Peter’s confession the title is used 12 times and always by Jesus. The title is taken from Daniel 7:13 but, whatever it meant then, Jesus redefines it through his life and mission.
Prepare to listen. Be still and silent in preparation to hear the Gospel. When ready, pray: I will meditate on your precepts, and fix my eyes on your ways. (Psalm 119:15)
Read Mark 2:1-12
When he returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he was at home. 2So many gathered around that there was no longer room for them, not even in front of the door; and he was speaking the word to them. 3Then some people came, bringing to him a paralysed man, carried by four of them. 4And when they could not bring him to jJesus because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him; and after having dug through it, they let down the mat on which the paralytic lay. 5When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, ‘Son, your sins are forgiven.’ 6Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts, 7‘Why does this fellow speak in this way? It is blasphemy! Who can forgive sins but God alone?’ 8At once Jesus perceived in his spirit that they were discussing these questions among themselves; and he said to them, ‘Why do you raise such questions in your hearts? 9Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, “Your sins are forgiven”, or to say, “Stand up and take your mat and walk”? 10But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins’—he said to the paralytic--11‘I say to you, stand up, take your mat and go to your home.’ 12And he stood up, and immediately took the mat and went out before all of them; so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, ‘We have never seen anything like this!’
A long time ago I was enthralled with this story as a good storyteller acted it out for us. His dramatized telling made the story come alive, turning it into a delightful story of friends helping their paralytic friend, of Jesus healing and forgiving sins and confounding the scribes, and of a crowd glorifying God as a result. What the storyteller left out were the ‘dark’ signs (not so pleasant things) in the story, which is where I want to begin our reflection.
First, there are a few signs of poverty. The home where Jesus stayed was typical of poor people. It most likely consisted of one room with a mud roof. Hence, the four friends could easily remove and dig it up. The paralytic lay on a ‘mat’, a term used to designate the bed of a poor person. The good news to lighten this ‘dark sign is that Jesus willingly associated himself with the poor and welcomed them. His welcome of the poor is in stark contrast to the scribes and other religious leaders who insulated themselves from the poor to avoid being made unclean.
A second ‘dark’ sign in the story is the confrontation with the scribes, Jesus’ first open and verbal one. They used the strongest possible language to rebuke Jesus for ‘forgiving sins’: “Why does this fellow speak in this way? It is blasphemy! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” The scribes had a point. In their understanding, based on the Mosaic Law, sins could only be forgiven through sacrifices made at the Temple by priests. The Temple was the symbol of God’s presence, the place where God’s presence intersected with humans. Jesus was nowhere near the temple. N. T. Wright in his book, Simply Jesus, suggests, “Jesus seems to be claiming that God is doing, up close and personal through him, something that you’d normally expect to happen at the Temple” (2011, p. 79)
Let’s go back in the story. The friends had great faith that Jesus could and would heal their paralyzed friend. We can only presume they were shocked when, instead of healing him, Jesus pronounced forgiveness of sins there in a simple home in Capernaum. It would be easy at this stage to jump to the conclusion, as many have, that Jesus believed the man was paralyzed because of sin and thus forgiveness would heal him. But, notice that the man wasn’t physically healed after Jesus’ pronouncement of forgiveness. He continued to lie, helplessly on the mat. So why did Jesus not immediately offer healing?
Jesus came to do far more than perform miracles and make people happy. He came to inaugurate God’s kingdom. In pronouncing forgiveness, he was deliberately taking on the scribes and their control over the people. They insisted that forgiveness could only happen at the Temple, thus excluding many who couldn’t get there. Jesus brought the man into God’s presence, his helpless and unclean condition notwithstanding. He then proved his power to forgive by healing the man.
At this point, the scribes drop into the background of Mark’s story and the crowd (mostly from poverty situations) glorify God, saying, ‘We have never seen anything like this!’ Since, they had seen Jesus perform healing miracles before, what were they surprised by and amazed at? Mark doesn’t specify.
Reflect over the story, especially the confrontation with the scribes, imagine being there yourself. What would amaze you and cause you to glorify God?
Notice how often the phrase ‘sins are forgiven’ is used. Why do you think this is so important in this story and in the larger Story of Jesus?
Respond to Jesus in prayer
Lord Jesus, you forgive sins, you heal lives, you set people free from oppression. Forgive, heal and set me free today. Help me forgive, heal and set free people I meet today who need this too. Amen.
Go and live obediently in the world forgiving and setting others free.