Jesus Forgives and Heals a Paralytic
Ordinary 7 Year B
A Hebrew Catholic Perspective
St. Mark 2: 1 — 12
We know from chapter 1 of this Gospel, 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 slips back to His disciples.
In this account, St. Mark records very carefully how the event unfolded. It is actually more complicated than a quick reading might first indicate. The writer presents a summary of the event, but leaves the “unpacking,” the explanation of the background, to the qualified teachers in the Church. In this “Reflection,” we bring a few quotations from Biblical scholars, to highlight the real power and significance of the occasion.
Some Notes on the Text
When Jesus returned to Capernaum after some days, it became
known that he was at 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!
Many gathered together so that there was no longer room for them,
not even around 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 “proclaiming good news”. We can picture the packed crowd listening intently to Jesus as He preached the Gospel to them: a recognised messianic sign!
Verses 3 and 4
They came bringing to him a paralytic carried by four men.
Unable to get near Jesus because of the crowd, they opened up the
roof above him. After they had broken through, they let down the mat
on which the paralytic was lying.
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”.
When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic,
“Child, your sins are forgiven.”
This verse lends itself to somewhat varying interpretations by those who pay little attention to the words Jesus uses, as recorded in the text. The phrase “their faith” (ten pistin auton, the faith of them) refers primarily to the four who were carrying the paralytic, but could also include 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 a 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 the man’s 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 for God. Again we 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, that is God in the flesh. He speaks openly like this
mainly for the learned Pharisees; he would have them understand his
claim to divinity right from the start. (Based on the Gospel Story by R. Cox)
Verses 6 and 7
Now some of the scribes were sitting there asking themselves,
“Why does this man speak that way? He is blaspheming.
Who but God alone can forgive sins?”
This is the first controversy with the religious leaders of Israel who, in His last hours before crucifixion, will misquote Him and use their false version of the event 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 objections to themselves: and this was, therefore, being deceitful.
Jesus immediately knew in his mind what they were thinking to themselves, so he said, “Why are you thinking such things in your hearts?
It was a sad moment for Jesus. He “knew in His mind” (literally, 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, their minds were already set on 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 to which they must have wanted desperately to reply. However, we observe that they could not find the words when they wanted to do so.
Verses 9 — 11
Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’
or to say, ‘Rise, pick up your mat and walk’?
But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority to
forgive sins on earth” -
he said to the paralytic, “I say to you, rise, pick up your mat,
and go home.”
The answer to the question in verse 9 is obvious: it is far easier to say sins are forgiven since there is normally no outward proof whether or not they are forgiven. Jesus demonstrated that He could do the harder. He therefore had an obvious claim on being able to do the easier. The force of our Lord’s self defence should have modified the aggression of 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).
It may help us to grapple with this incident by noting a few Biblical facts.
According to Biblical analysis, as it stands, the sentence is grammatically incomplete. Jesus is to be understood as intending to say 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, even though they did not want to believe.
If this is a little difficult to follow, just be aware that our Lord had to find a strategy to help the unfortunate paralytic yet convey an important message to His opponents.
Walter Wessel advises us that the whole of verse 10 can be taken as addressed to St. Mark’s readers. This would account for the early public use of the title “Son of Man” which is more fully explained later in the Gospel.
Let us remember that the reference to the Son of Man is unmistakably an echo of Daniel’s pointing (7: 13) to the coming of the Messiah and Saviour (Erdman). Thus our Lord is giving a clear signal that His words and actions are the fulfilment of what Daniel pointed towards — and therefore, what the learned teachers of Israel should have recognised. Some, as we know did. But Jesus is here confronted with a group of opponents who were determined to cut Him down and minimise His influence.
At this point the paralytic left the scene as suddenly as he entered it.
He rose, picked up his mat at once, and went away in the sight
of everyone. They were all astounded and glorified God, saying,
“We have never seen anything like this.”
Again, Jesus’ onlookers were: “amazed”. Appropriately, inspired by the Messiah, they directed their praise to God.
Augustine Stock, OSB, makes a powerful statement about this incident. It reflects the complexity of the Gospel incident. However, it is worth reading slowly several times.
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 a word from Jesus’ can bring about anything He desires!
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Jesus Forgives and Heals a Paralytic
Ordinary 7 Year B Mark 2: 1 — 12
1. In this amazing account, no one asked for healing, or forgiveness; or anything else, for that matter. The paralysed man’s friends just knew in their hearts that they had to do everything possible to bring their friend into the presence of Jesus. They knew the state of their friend’s thoughts and feelings, and they let nothing — absolutely nothing get in their way.
Jesus likewise didn’t ask for anything — He simply read the unfortunate man’s heart and soul and proceeded to bless him.
In like manner Jesus evaluates the sincerity of our heart and soul. He may choose to respond dramatically or in a hidden, slowly unfolding way. But He will respond!
2. In some religious streams today, there is the belief that if one isn’t cured when one asks some mega-media, so-called evangelist for a cure, that it signifies one does not have sufficient faith, or is secretly holding on to some sinful thought or practice. This belief arises from false interpretation of Sacred Scripture. If God’s glory is served by our faithful perseverance and humble acceptance of what He permits, then our salvation requires that we yield to His Divine Will.
3. Our Lord was so deeply moved by the confidence the paralytic’s friends had in His ability to heal, that He interrupted His preaching just for them. He could have asked them to wait but instead, immediately pronounced forgiveness of all the lame man’s sins; and did so in a way which made it clear He Himself was forgiving the man. We note Jesus did not proclaim a healing. He simply willed it, and it was so! A New Creation is suddenly under way right before their eyes, and they are right in the middle of it. As Charles Erdman wrote,”
“He was brought to Jesus by four friends, whose determination and desperate earnestness serve as an example, or rebuke to many who profess to be concerned about the spiritual welfare of others, but who do so little towards bringing them to Christ”.
Blessed are you, O Lord, King of the Universe, who inspires both, the great and the humble, the young and the old, the gifted and the not-so-well-endowed, the teacher and the student who try to spread the Word of your love throughout the whole world. Amen.
Mark 2: 1 ― 12
Ordinary 7 Year B
1 1 2 When Jesus returned to Capernaum after some days, it
2 Many gathered together so that there was no longer room for them,
3 They came bringing to him a paralytic carried by four men.
4 Unable to get near Jesus because of the crowd, they opened up
5 3 When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Child, your
6 4 Now some of the scribes were sitting there asking themselves,
7 “Why does this man speak that way? 5 He is blaspheming. Who
8 Jesus immediately knew in his mind what they were thinking to
9 Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or
10 6 But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority
11 he said to the paralytic, “I say to you, rise, pick up your
12 He rose, picked up his mat at once, and went away in the
1 [1-⇒ 3:6] This section relates a series of conflicts between Jesus and the scribes and Pharisees in which the growing opposition of the latter leads to their plot to put Jesus to death (⇒ Mark 3:6).
2  He was at home: to the crowds that gathered in and outside the house Jesus preached the word, i.e., the gospel concerning the nearness of the kingdom and the necessity of repentance and faith (⇒ Mark 1:14).
3  It was the faith of the paralytic and those who carried him that moved Jesus to heal the sick man. Accounts of other miracles of Jesus reveal more and more his emphasis on faith as the requisite for exercising his healing powers (⇒ Mark 5:34; ⇒ 9:23-24; ⇒ 10:52).
4  Scribes: trained in oral interpretation of the written law; in Mark’s gospel, adversaries of Jesus, with one exception (⇒ Mark 12:28, ⇒ 34).
5  He is blaspheming: an accusation made here and repeated during the trial of Jesus (⇒ Mark 14:60-64).
6  But that you may know that the Son of Man . . . on earth: although ⇒ Mark 2:8-9 are addressed to the scribes, the sudden interruption of thought and structure in ⇒ Mark 2:10 seems not addressed to them nor to the paralytic. Moreover, the early public use of the designation “Son of Man” to unbelieving scribes is most unlikely. The most probable explanation is that Mark’s insertion of ⇒ Mark 2:10 is a commentary addressed to Christians for whom he recalls this miracle and who already accept in faith that Jesus is Messiah and Son of God.
Scripture texts in this work are taken from the New American Bible, revised