Jesus Heals and Forgives a Paralytic

Ordinary 7B

Mark 2: 1 12


We know from chapter 1 that one of the reasons (apart from the stubborn opposition of the religious leaders) that Jesus left Capernaum temporarily, was to escape the miracle addicts who were more interested in witnessing the abnormal than listening to his basic teaching. His temporary withdrawal has served its purpose, and (possibly under cover of darkness) he slipped back with his disciples.

Some Notes on the Text

Verse 1

A few days later, when Jesus again entered Capernaum, the people heard that he had come home.

News travels fast in a small town. When people heard the rumour they went straight to the house of Peter and Andrew. The gospels show us that whenever Jesus entered a house, his presence was so pervasive that it could not be concealed!

Verse 2

So many gathered that there was no room left, not even outside the door, and he preached the word to them.

Most houses in Palestine were built clustered around a large courtyard; a raised porch with a flimsy roof provided a pulpit for our Lord; the crowds packed the open courtyard (Cox).

By the time this Gospel was written the reference to "preaching the word" had become virtually a technical term for the "good news". We can picture the packed crowd listening intently to Jesus as he preached the Gospel to them: a great messianic sign!

Verses 3 and 4

Some men came, bringing to him a paralytic, carried by four of them. Since they could not get him to Jesus because of the crowd, they made an opening in the roof above Jesus and, after digging through it, lowered the mat the paralysed man was lying on.

An outer stairway, in Palestinian homes, gave access to the roof. Bouquet explains:

"The roof would be flat, and not made of very thick material, perhaps rough rafters with branches laid across, and the whole plastered with mud, so that 'to take off the roof' and let someone down through it… would be quite easy".

Verse 5

When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, "Son, your sins are forgiven."

This verse lends itself to somewhat varying interpretations by those who do not respect the text. The phrase "their faith" (ten pistin auton, the faith of them) refers primarily to the four who were carrying the paralytic, but does not necessarily exclude the paralytic himself. (U.B.S. drawing from Gould and Lagrange). The use of the word "faith" here does not mean the faith in Jesus, called for in 1: 15 but in what he could do, and must be understood therefore as confidence.

Nevertheless, as the text says, when Jesus saw their confidence in his ability and willingness to heal their friend, and their stubborn determination not to let a mere roof get in the way, he gladly postponed his preaching and attended to the sudden arrival of his paralysed visitor descending on his pallet.

Our Lord's response was quite unexpected. "The pronouncement was startling because it seemed inappropriate and even irrelevant to the immediate situation" (Lane).

Cox also helps with his comment:

"Even though our Lord's words were addressed primarily to the Pharisees, he showed a deep, personal interest in the man at his feet; he was not merely an object on which to demonstrate this power; he was a human being with a soul to save. So he tested his faith, by first forgiving his sins, and only then healing his body."

Although Jesus did not say (on this or any other occasion) "I forgive your sins", it was clear he was claiming to act and speak to God. Again was take Cox's point:

This is the most explicit public claim to divine power that our Lord makes during his Galilean ministry. He is not claiming delegated power from God… he claims authority in his own right as the Messiah ('Son of Man'), during his earthly life. This can only mean that he is God incarnate. He speaks openly like this mainly for the learned Pharisees; he would have them understand his claim to divinity right from the start.

(From the Gospel Story by R. Cox)

Verses 6 and 7

Now some teachers of the law were sitting there, thinking to themselves, "Why does this fellow talk like this? He's blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?

This is the first controversy with the religious leaders of Israel who, in his last hours before crucifixion, will misquote him and use it to condemn him.

On this occasion they considered Jesus was usurping the right of God and actually forgiving sins, not simply declaring them to be forgiven, as Nathan did (2 Sam. 12: 13) (U.B.S.). That for Jesus is not the major difficulty with their attitude. He was open, honest and straightforward in dealing with them, yet they were not prepared to question him, nor were they open to learn and understand. They kept their objection to themselves: and this was being deceitful.

Verse 8

Immediately Jesus knew in his spirit that this was what they were thinking in their hearts, and he said to them, "Why are you thinking these things?"

It was a sad moment for Jesus. He "knew in his spirit" the attitudes they held. Here "spirit" means, "the source and seat of insight, feeling, and will, generally as the representative part of the inner life of man" (Arndt and Gingrich). But Jesus tried to open up an exchange of ideas, even intensive debate (which his question invited).

Regrettably none of the Pharisees present were prepared to enter into dialogue. In other words, they were already forming plans to get their own way by getting rid of him and his supporters. They did not want to know or understand what Jesus stood for. This is the tragedy. Even when he asked them a question he was met with a stony silence. Accordingly, in the face of sheer, utter bigotry and prejudice, Jesus then confronted them with a challenge they must have wanted desperately to reply to. However, we observe that they could not find the words when they wanted to!

Verses 9 11

"Which is easier: to say to the paralytic, "Your sins are forgiven". Or to say, "Get up, take your mat and walk"?

But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins…"

He said to the paralytic, "I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home."

The answer to the question in verse 9 is obvious: it is easier to say sins are forgiven since there is normally no outward proof whether or not they are forgiven. By proving he could do the harder, Jesus would have a claim on being able to do the easier. This would counter the aggression among his opponents.

"He did the miracle which they could see that they might know that he had done the other one that they could not see" (Hunter).

We are best informed about this incident when we know that there are two legitimate ways of understanding the text in verse 10 as we have it. Following the lead of United Bible Societies, as it stands the sentence is grammatically incomplete. Jesus is to be understood as intending something like: "But, in order that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins I will do (or say) this". Instead of doing or saying it, however, he directly addressed himself to the paralytic, thus doing and saying what was necessary in order that the scribes should know (what they don't want to believe).

Walter Wessel also helps us by explaining that the whole of verse 10 can be taken as addressed to Mark's readers. This approach would account for the early public use of the title "Son of Man" which belongs, in Mark, to a later setting.

Which ever of these two approaches is preferred, the reference to Son of Man is unmistakably an echo of Daniel's pointing (7: 13) to the coming of the Messiah and Saviour (Erdman).

At this point the paralytic left the scene as suddenly as he entered it.

Verse 12

He got up, took his mat and walked out in full view of them all. This amazed everyone and they praised God, saying, "We have never seen anything like this!"

Again, Jesus' onlookers were: "amazed". They directed their praise to God.


Augustine Stock makes a powerful statement about this incident:

For the members of Mark's community, Jesus' healing of the paralytic is a sign of the full salvation which God promises and of which it already partakes. Not only in the end-time, at the consummation, will God's salvation become reality. It had already begun for them, although stripped of outward show, in the forgiveness of sins. This also severs the causal connection between sin and illness. For just as not all those whose sins are forgiven arrive at bodily health, so not every illness can he attributed to sin. This is a new departure — the Christian community has broken with Jewish ideas in this respect. For Mark's readers true salvation lies in reconciliation with God, which occurs in the absolution from sin. This is the lasting doctrine they should learn from Jesus' healing of the paralytic.

(From The Method and Message of Mark by Augustine Stock,
 OSB. Michael Glazier Inc. 1989)

What could be a more powerful demonstration that Jesus' word is effective!

Further Reading: J. C. Ryle

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