February 19, 2006 - Year B - Epiphany 7

Mark 2:1-12

2  1 After some days Jesus returned to Capernaum. As the news spread that he was at home,so many people gathered that there was no longer room even outside the door. While Jesus was preaching the Word to them, some people brought a paralyzed man to him.

The four men who carried him couldn’t get near Jesus because of the crowd, so they opened the roof above the room where Jesus was and, through the hole, lowered the man on his mat. When Jesus saw the faith of these people, he said to the paralytic, “My son, your sins are forgiven.”

Now, some teachers of the Law who were sitting there wondered within themselves, “How can he speak like this insulting God? Who can forgive sins except God?”

At once Jesus knew through his spirit what they were thinking and asked, “Why do you wonder? Is it easier to say to this paralyzed man: ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say: ‘Rise, take up your mat and walk?’ 10 But now you shall know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.”

And he said to the paralytic, 11 “Stand up, take up your mat and go home.” 12 The man rose and, in the sight of all those people, he took up his mat and went out. All of them were astonished and praised God saying, “We have never seen anything like this!”

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Notes from [The Community Christian Bible

• 2.1 With this miracle on the paralytic cured and forgiven, Jesus gives three answers at the same time: to the sick man, to his friends and to the Pharisees.

When Jesus saw the faith of these people (v. 5). These are the friends of the paralytic, and Jesus rewards their faith.

Apparently the paralytic did nothing more than consent to their advice. At once, Jesus tells him – your sins are forgiven. What a strange thing to say! How can Jesus forgive sins if the man is not conscious of any fault and, at the same time, repentant and awaiting forgiveness? Certainly during his long infirmity, this man had asked himself why God was punishing him (the people of his time believed sickness was a punishment from God). Many texts of the Old Testament emphasize the complex connection between sin and illness. It is often illness that makes us conscious of our state of sinfulness, and for his part Jesus does not want to heal unless there is reconciliation with God.

Jesus acts like God: he looked at the sinner, rectified the complexes of culpability and pardoned before healing.

Later the Pharisees arrive. When Jesus forgave the paralytic, the simple people did not realize how scandalous his words were. They did not have enough religious formation to realize immediately that only God could give absolution. It was the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law who were scandalized. Their indignation is justified because neither they, nor the others, nor the disciples, yet understand that Jesus is the true Son of God. Jesus silences them: If I restore health in the same way God does, should not I also forgive in the way God does?

Jesus disconcerts those who ask who he is. Better still, he shows that only he can save the whole person, body and soul.


Happy this man who was assured of his pardon through the glance and the words of Jesus! God is he who lives and loves and we need to meet him so that forgiveness can be authentic – his eyes meeting our eyes. Because of this, God had to become human – Jesus forgives sins because he is a son of man (Jn 5:27) and from him we receive the pardon both of God and of people within the Christian community.

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Comments by Wesley

1.  "The word 'faith,' through long Christian use, has picked up a set of synonyms and antonyms foreign to its origins. In Christian settings, pistis means 'faith as opposed to works,' and works are specifically understood as 'works of the law,' . . . .  In Christian setting, [the Greek word] pistis means 'faith as opposed to works,' and works are specifically understood as 'works of the law,' and the law in question (for Christian texts) is the Torah, which is (mis)understood as a way to earn God's favorable attention. . . . the problem comes with the fact that in Jewish settings pistis is probably best translated as 'faithfulness,' faithfulness to Torah, which is not a law but a way of life. . . .

"If the Greek word pistis is translated as 'faith' in this scene, it becomes a story about believing the impossible, about the inward disposition of the friends who believe that Jesus can heal the paralyzed man. This is a good story, and this reading has yielded good and fitting sermons over the centuries.

"If pistis is translated as 'faithfulness' in the scene, however, the story changes. Now the focus of the story, and of the pistis, is not Jesus but the man on the pallet. His friends act faithfully. That means that they have set aside all things (including the roof) to care for their friend, their neighbor. They have known out of their tradition that God intends for all life to flourish, and they have taken drastic steps to include their neighbor in that flourishing. Jesus is impressed. So is everyone else in the room. They have seen faithfulness to Torah acted out in an extraordinary way."

This from Provoking the Gospel of Mark by Richard W. Swanson. How do you read it?

2. In the scene there are different readings as evidenced by the clash of perspectives about forgiveness and healing. Is forgiveness, person to person? Can Jesus or you forgive my sins against someone else? There is a faithfulness about this sort of argumentation. What options does your theology open and close when you speak of forgiveness?

3. "The content of faith is not some or other proposition about Jesus; this Jesus has repeatedly rebuked. The content of faith is rather this holy impatience, this all out, go for broke, determination that the lame be made to walk. . . .

"It is not hard to see why the clear meaning of this episode has been assiduously covered up by ecclesiastical exegesis. The words of Jesus' opponents, 'Only God can forgive sins,' are repeated with mind boggling and pious regularity by those who suppose that they are followers, not of the scholars, but of Jesus! This is possible only by a kind of exegetical slight-of-hand that substitutes the religion of the experts for the word and deed of Jesus. In this, as in so many other respects, the Christian scribes have succeeded in remaking Jesus into the founder of the sort of religious tradition that he meant to abolish! The word and deed of Jesus is as destructive of religious Christianity as it was of religious Judaism." [from The Insurrection of the Crucified by Theodore W. Jennings, Jr.]

Again and again we read these stories from the perspective of giving Jesus more than every benefit of the doubt so we can turn them into propositions about forgiveness rather than faithful deeds. What challenge is present here to your usual way of hurrying through this story because you think you learned it in Sunday School?

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