Take a moment to reread Mark Chapter 2, 1-12.
In the very first post on the Hypocritical Christian, I suggested the following themes for the gospel of Mark:
- Origin of the Good News of Jesus Christ
- Christ is the messiah for the purpose of salvation
- Christ has authority
- Repentance is about believing whom Christ is
- The specific work of Christ is dealing with the sin problem.
Now in the first 12 verse of Mark 2, we see all of this playing out. In fact at least one commentator has suggested that the entire Gospel of Mark is found in these 12 verses. Of course that is a little bit of hyperbole, but the point is that in this one story the broadest themes and the major point that Mark is communicating is present in action.
You may recall that the paralytic has been lowered into the presence of Jesus and even though the friends clearly want a healing miracle for their pal what Jesus actually says is pretty astonishing. “Son, your sins are forgiven.”
So astonishing in fact that there were present some professional religious folk (scribes) who were thinking to themselves, “Wait, what?!? You can’t do that!” They knew their Old Testament scriptures quite well and that told them that only YHWH can forgive sins. If you are not familiar with YHWH it is the four consonants of the sacred name of God. The name given to Moses from the burning bush. If you have ever heard the phrase “the God of Abraham, Jacob, and Issac” then you know what we mean when we say YHWH. So the scribes know that only God can forgive sins. Exodus 34:6-7; Isaiah 43:25 and 44:22 are just a few of the places that make this clear.
Mark tells us that the scribes believe Jesus to be blaspheming. Blasphemy is a technical term and in Jesus day a religious crime. Anything that discredited THE NAME (YHWH) was punishable by death through stoning. In the scribes’ minds claiming the ability to do something that only the ONE GOD can do was a serious act of discrediting God. It is hard to think of something that we have in our culture that is the equivalent of this. Maybe using the parking space of the CEO or drinking from the Admiral’s private liquor cabinet, but these infractions are minor compared to the way they viewed blasphemy. The closest thing I can think of is identity theft, but identity theft of someone enormously powerful like the President or the Queen of England or OPRAH!
Here is where it gets interesting. Jesus knows what they are thinking and calls them out on it. He issues a challenge for himself to them. He starts by asking them a question: “Which is easier to say ‘Your sins are forgiven’; or to say ‘Get up. Take your pallet and walk’?”
Note what is going on here in the question. Sins are an intangible thing while paralysis is not. If I say to a person who can not walk get up and they do then I have clearly healed them of their paralysis. If I say to a person that your sins are forgiven there is no way that anyone can prove it just by looking. On the one hand, it is easier to say the first because no one can disprove you with empirical evidence unlike saying stand up because in the second case the person either gets up or they do not; on the other hand, the latter is the easier of the two because it is not something that only God can claim authority over. Everyone had seen a faith healer work this sort of miracle before. Even if we only thought in terms of modern science the latter would still be easier because it is both prove-able and there are medical procedures for healing some forms of paralysis. Try and get a prescription for your sins filled at Walgreens!
But Jesus is not stopping with the rhetorical question, he is actually cleverly setting up the scribes because he follows the question up with the following statement: “but in order that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins — he said to the paralyzed one ‘I say to you, Rise, take up your pallet and go home.'”
See both the challenge and the set up? If the paralytic stands up then the Son of Man has the authority (power) to forgive sins on earth. If the paralytic stands up the scribes will have to admit that the sins were forgiven and that no blasphemy took place.
(Note: “Son of Man” is a term that Mark uses about 2 dozen times in his gospel. Another time we can discuss what this title means, but please make note from the bold type above there can be zero question that Jesus means for it to refer to himself.)
Mark makes it crystal clear what happens next. The paralytic, to the absolute astonishment of the crowd, stands up, picks up his pallet and left this time out the door and not the hole in the roof. Jesus proved his point spectacularly and everyone gave praise to God.
So what does this mean that Jesus claims an authority that the Old Testament scriptures clearly indicate is the sole purview of YHWH? What is the implication? It is pretty inescapable, if Jesus makes the man walk in the way he structured the challenge then he also forgave the paralytic’s sins. Don’t get caught up in the tortured discussions about how they viewed sin and illness as interconnected in those days and this is Jesus giving them some good old post-enlightenment sensibility about these matters of illness and the separation of the physical from the spiritual. That is smoke and mirrors and clearly not the intent that Mark has here. Mark wants to demonstrate here the key points that his Gospel is seeking to share: Jesus is the Christ (Messiah) and uniquely appointed by God to be God’s agent, the presence of the Kingdom on Earth. Jesus has authority. Jesus is going to correct the sin problem.
Mark is sharing this story to persuade everyone who reads / hears it of the truth of who Christ is. Remember the demon in the first chapter: “you are the Holy One of God.” Mark is asking all of us to ponder what it means that this Jesus can do something that only God can do.
Consider this. When the the four bring the paralyzed one to Jesus we are told that when Jesus saw their faith he spoke to the paralytic. I said in a previous post that what they did in action was demonstrate their faith that Jesus could do what they desired. In New Testament Greek faith is the word pistis (this is the transliteration of the Greek letters) and it means assurance, conviction, etc. all those synonyms in English that you would expect. What is interesting is that it is derived from the Greek word peitho which is strictly speaking “to win over; persuade.” With this information we can come to understand that faith is a demonstration of having been persuaded. It is a confiding belief in the truth, veracity, reality of any person or thing. In the case of the four, their actions demonstrated a belief in the truth of whom Jesus was and the authority that he possessed.
I think that Mark is trying to persuade us. In the last post I wrote: “faith that heals is faith that trusts.” A careful reader will note that the only difference in the title of the last post and this post is punctuation. Faith that heals is faith that trusts; faith that heals comes from having been persuaded about who Christ is.
I encourage you to spend a little time this week asking yourself what it truly meant that the paralytic got up and walked. Is it not more than a miracle? Is it not more than the forgiveness of sins?
Mark seems to think so.
Feel free to use this Bible study for your own groups or discussion. It is freely given. If you do I merely ask that you acknowledge where you got it and if you find it useful that you encourage others to seek it out. It is freely given and written with fear, foreboding, and prayer by a fellow hypocrite who is simply trying to figure out the road ahead.