When he returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he was at home. 2 So 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. 3 Then some people came, bringing to him a paralyzed man, carried by four of them. 4 And when they could not bring him to Jesus 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. 5 When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” 6 Now 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?” 8 At 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? 9 Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Stand up and take your mat and walk’? 10 But 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.” 12 And 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!”
After his sojourn in the countryside, Jesus returns to Capernaum to continue his ministry of teaching and healing. A large crowd gathers at the house where Jesus resides to the point of overflowing.
Enter five men, one of them paralyzed. They want to get to Jesus but there is no way to enter the house. They get resourceful, cutting a whole in the roof and lowering the man down on a mat. It’s a bold move. And Jesus takes notice.
Mark writes that “when Jesus saw their faith,” he moves to heal the paralytic man. Here is helpful to use another translation for the Greek word pistis. In this moment a better translation would be trust. These men trust that Jesus can heal the brokenness in their midst. They trust that Jesus can meet their needs. Their trust leads them into some creative thinking and bold action. A model for us modern day disciples to follow.
Their trust in Jesus also begs the question - with whom have they lost trust? The answer comes quickly. As soon as Jesus pronounces forgiveness Mark shifts our attention to the scribes, who were in the gathering. The men had potentially lost their trust in the scribes, whose role it was to forgive sin/debt. The scribes have fallen short of their call.
In this moment they are upset at the declaration of forgiveness. And for good reason. Here again we are invited to move beyond our 21st century attention to healing as science/modern medicine dig into the metaphor of the healing ministry of Jesus. Notice that Jesus does not address symptoms. He does not respond to a physical ailment. Jesus responds to a social label - in this instance “sinner.” Jesus declares, “your sins are forgiven.”
With the declaration of the forgiveness of sins, Jesus enters into the realm of the debt code of Israel. It is helpful here to remember that another interpretation of the “forgive us our trespasses” petition is “forgive us our debts.” The forgiveness of sins is intimately connected to the forgiveness of debts and has some economic and social repercussions.
Ched Myers explains: “In choosing to introduce the language of the debt code, Jesus is elaborating the symbolics of hierarchy. The man’s lack of bodily wholeness would have been attributed to either his own sin, or, if a birth defect, inherited sin; he was thus denied full status in the body politic of Israel. Jesus summarily releases him from all debt - hence restoring his social wholeness and thus his personhood, which in turn is equated with the restoration of physical wholeness (Myers, 155).”
Jesus releases this man from debt and restores him to place within the community.
This angers the scribes.
Myers elaborates; “Their (the scribes) complaint that none but God can remit debt (2:7b) is not a defense of the sovereignty of Yahweh, but of their own social power. AS Torah interpreters and co-stewards of the symbolic order, they control determinations of indebtedness (Myers, 155).”
Jesus has confronted their monopoly of power. His healing has once again led him into conflict with the powers that be. Jesus declares forgiveness, something that only the scribes had the legal and social power to enact.
The power of forgiving sins/releasing debt was for the sake of maintaining community life. The scribes had been entrusted with this crucial task. But somewhere the system had broken down. Perhaps this is what led the four men to bring their friend to Jesus - they lost trust in the system.
Jesus meets the needs of the people. He encounters their brokenness and restores them community. His ministry is about giving life.
2:11 - Social Resurrection
In the moment of conflict we have another instance of social resurrection. In verse 11 Jesus declares, “I say to you, stand up, take your mat and go to your home.” The word translated as “stand up” is actually the Greek root word ἐγείρω, to raise up. With the use of this word, Mark connects this healing moment to the resurrection moment in chapter 16. Jesus has raised this man from a state of social death to new life within the community.
Our imagination as modern day disciples is once again tuned to encountering the power of Jesus to bring life out of death. Hopefully, the more we interact with this pattern of Jesus' ministry, the more our imaginations will be awakened to how this is taking place in our lives.
Next week we will pick up in verse 13 and explore Jesus' first encounter with the Pharisees.