Journey w/ Jesus (Mark) - Healing the Paralytic
Mark 2:1-12, Ecclesiastes 4:9-12, Psalm 116
We are in the second week of a five week Journey with Jesus series. We are following Jesus in the Gospel of Mark for the next four weeks. Last week we saw that Jesus was baptized by John, even though John was unworthy to do something so powerful. We learned that God works through us in amazing ways when we trust in the Lord. We also saw that Jesus received his identity as Son of God. Also, that Jesus’ mission would be focused on forgiveness of sins.
Today we have moved to the beginning of chapter 2, where Jesus heals someone who is paralyzed. This is an amazing miracle story. But, there is a lot going on around this miracle, and I’d like to look at those things this morning. We will look in detail at three groups of people in the narrative. First of all, the paralyzed man and his friends. The paralyzed man did not go to Jesus on his own. He had four friends bring him. The paralyzed man shows us how important it is that we are willing to receive help from others, just as we saw in our Ecclesiastes passage. Second, Jesus. This is the first time that Jesus forgives sins in the Gospel of Mark. The rest of chapter 1 details healings, casting out of demons, crowds and solitary prayer. But now Jesus is also saying, publicly, that he has the power to forgive sins. And the third group is the scribes. The scribes think that Jesus is blaspheming when he says he can forgive sins. This doesn’t match their understanding of God’s forgiveness of sins and so they reject it. Let’s see what we can learn about these three groups as we go through this passage.
Let’s start with the paralyzed man and his friends, reading from chapter 2:1, “When [Jesus] returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he was at home. So many gathered around that there was no longer room for them, not even in front of the door; and [Jesus] was speaking the word to them. Then some people came, bringing to him a paralyzed man, carried by four of them. 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.” We often talk so much about giving and generosity that we often forget about the skill of receiving: the gift of allowing others to help us. It doesn’t say that the paralyzed man was telling his friends to stop. But I can imagine that for many of us, if we had four friends come to our house and offer to carry us on foot to this rabbi who was healing people that we would say, “No, no. Don’t inconvenience yourselves. I’m not worth that.” But if they did manage to convince us to let them, I imagine that most of us would draw the line at digging through the roof.
Imagine the effort! Those four friends had to go climb the house, dig through the roof. I don’t know about you, but I always imagined this as a thatched roof, and that they just picked up the hay and moved it over. But my Greek dictionary says that the roof was made of clay. And that the word we translate “they dug” also means to take something out by force. So they were digging through the clay roof by force and the dictionary also says that this word also implies that they moved all the debris to one side so that it didn’t fall on anybody’s heads inside the house, which we know was crowded. This was a lot of effort. And then they needed to carry their friend up there and then lower him through the roof. The text does not say that they dropped him, so somehow they managed this safely. I imagine that most of us would never accept this kind of help from our friends. We forget, though, that receiving help is giving a gift to our helpers. Sometimes we don’t want to accept help because our pride won’t let us.
I’ve been watching the new Anne of Green Gables, and really enjoying it. I just watched the last episode that they have on Netflix. This is a spoiler alert so if you don’t know the story and you haven’t watched episode 7, just cover your ears for a minute. The family runs into financial troubles and there’s a real possibility that they are going to lose their farm. Anne happens to have a very, very rich friend. When the friend finds out, she sends money to Anne’s family to help them save their farm. But, Marilla, Anne’s adoptive mother, refuses to accept it. Marilla says that she doesn’t want to be pitied. She doesn’t want to accept help because she doesn’t want people to think that she can’t take care of herself. Anne says something to her that is really beautiful. She says, but Marilla, “love is not charity. ...And I’d sure give my last bit of strength or my last dollar to help a friend. And I know that friend would feel grateful and loved above all else. ...Sometimes you just have to let people love you, Marilla.” This softens Marilla, she swallows her pride and accepts this gift of love, the money to help them save their farm.
Just like Anne and Marilla, the paralyzed man teaches us that it is just as important to be able to receive help as it is to give it. By allowing his friends to help him, he gave them the gift of showing him their love. And they had the joy of participating in an amazing healing miracle. None of it would have happened if the paralyzed man had refused their help.
Let’s move on to the second point, which is to take a look at Jesus in this narrative. Before we get to this particular point in Mark’s Gospel, Jesus has healed a lot of people. But in verse 5 of our passage today, Jesus responds in a way that we would not expect. Verse 5 says this: “When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, ‘Son, your sins are forgiven.’” This is unexpected. It is obvious that what the paralyzed man needs is physical healing. Given all the effort the four friends went to to get this man to Jesus, it is safe to assume that everyone noticed the paralyzed man and his need for physical healing: how could anyone not notice people digging a hole in the roof? Moreover, in chapter 1, the pattern was that Jesus would heal or cast out a demon, and then the crowds would come to bring the sick for healing. The fact that a crowd is here alerts us that people are expecting healing. But Jesus says that the paralyzed man’s sins are forgiven. What is going on here?
Jesus is not saying that the man is paralyzed because he sinned. Jesus is trying to demonstrate that he has the power to forgive sins. When he said that the man’s sins were forgiven, he had everyone’s attention. They were expecting to watch a physical healing miracle, but instead he said the man’s sins were forgiven. Jesus explains himself starting in verse 9, where he says, “Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Stand up, take your mat, and walk’?” It is important to remember that when Jesus says something that it is absolutely true. He’s not hoping the sins are forgiven, he is declaring it so. People already know that Jesus can perform physical healings. They already know he has that power. What they don’t know is that he also has the power to forgive sins. This is a bit strange to us. For us, it seems easier to forgive sins, than to perform a physical healing miracle. But not so back then. As the text tells us earlier, forgiveness of sins belonged to God alone. It was not something that was easily accessible to the people. Forgiveness of sins was the harder of the two. Physical healing is one thing. But eliminating the barrier between people and God? That is on a whole new level. We saw last week that Jesus’ ministry would include forgiveness of sins, but at this point in Jesus’ ministry, people weren’t expecting that.
In verse 10, Jesus says this, “‘But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins’-- he said to the paralytic-- ‘I say to you, stand up, take your mat and go to your home.’ 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!’” What Jesus demonstrates here is that when he declared something, it was immediately true. If the man was immediately physically healed when Jesus said so, then his sins were also immediately forgiven when Jesus said so. This is Jesus’ first public declaration in the Gospel of Mark that he has the authority to forgive sins.
This leads us to our third group of people in the narrative, the scribes. To be honest, I feel sorry for the scribes. If we give them the benefit of the doubt, they were trying their best, but they just couldn’t handle Jesus. This is both the first time Jesus declared that he could forgive sins, and also the first confrontation with the religious leaders. Jesus is the Son of God and what we learn from this is that the religious leaders are going to butt heads with God over the open concept of forgiveness of sins through Christ. Their reaction says it all starting in verse 6, “Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts, ‘Why does this fellow speak in this way? It is blasphemy! Who can forgive sins but God alone?’” God is doing something new, something different through Christ. God wants to eliminate the barrier of sin. Sin separates humans from God, but through Christ, God forgives sins and takes that barrier away. Pheme Perkins also points out that we humans also create barriers between each other based on sin. She writes, “Jesus rejects that division. The ‘righteous’ think they know the conditions under which persons may expect to receive mercy from God.” But for all their knowledge, the scribes fail when they “mistake Jesus’ ministry to sinners as blasphemous disregard for God’s holiness” ("The Gospel of Mark," NIB, vol. VIII, pg. 551 (Abingdon Press, 1995)).
Sometimes we do the same thing. We have an idea of what a Christian is like. We are often very quick to judge each other. Through Jesus, through forgiveness of sins, God is breaking down the barriers that divide us from each other. Jesus demonstrates that God’s holiness does not separate, but unite. God’s holiness introduces forgiveness of sins which united humans with God and unites us with each other. We learn from Jesus that we should always expect God to do the unexpected. We learn from the scribes that we should not assume that we know how God will act. When we assume we know how God will act, we leave ourselves vulnerable to accidentally declare God’s holy compassion blasphemy.
Well, as I said at the beginning, this is an amazing miracle story, but there is a lot going on around it. We saw the relationship between the paralyzed man and his four friends, both the generosity of the friends, and the gift of receiving help demonstrated by the paralyzed man. We also saw Jesus, publicly declaring for the first time his power to forgive sins in the Gospel of Mark, and the resulting conflict with the religious leaders. We also saw the scribes, so sure about knowing who God is and how God will act that they declare that God’s gracious forgiveness through Christ is blasphemy. With so much happening here, is there a simple message to take away? Yes. May we be humble. May we be humble enough to receive help from our brothers and sisters in Christ. May we be humble enough to seek forgiveness of sins through Jesus and break down the barriers that divide us. May we be humble enough to rejoice in-- and not condemn-- the unexpected actions of God in our own lives and in the lives of others. May we be humble. Amen.