Mark 2:1-12: 1Jesus went back again to Capernaum, where, after a few days, word got around that he was at home. 2A crowd gathered, so that people couldn’t even get near the door as he was telling them the message. 3A party arrived: four people carrying a paralyzed man, bringing him to Jesus. 4They couldn’t get through to him because of the crowd, so they opened up the roof above where he was. When they had dug through it, they used ropes to let down the stretcher the paralyzed man was lying on. 5Jesus saw their faith, and said to the paralyzed man, ‘Child, your sins are forgiven!’ 6‘How dare the fellow speak like this?’ grumbled some of the legal experts to themselves. 7‘It’s blasphemy! Who can forgive sins except for God?’ 8Jesus knew at once, in his spirit, that thoughts like this were in the air. ‘Why do your hearts tell you to think that?’ he asked. 9‘Answer me this,’ he went on. ‘Is it easier to say to this cripple, “Your sins are forgiven”, or to say, “Get up, pick up your stretcher, and walk”? 10‘You want to know that the son of man has authority on earth to forgive sins?’ He turned to the paralytic. 11‘I tell you,’ he said, ‘Get up, take your stretcher, and go home.’ 12He got up, picked up the stretcher in a flash, and went out before them all. Everyone was astonished, and they praised God. ‘We’ve never seen anything like this!’ they said.
Most of the time I’ve watched the hit series Gold Rush on the Discovery Channel the miners have had struggles just getting into an area of land that they knew had gold flakes in the ground. Sometimes they find good land and they painstakingly dig for months to make a profit. They’re out in a wilderness of sorts camping in RVs all while working seemingly endless shifts to extract the precious metal. I haven’t seen an episode where they just pull out chunks of gold like the one pictured above. Yet, after most seasons, the work they’ve put in pays off. Large pickling jars are revealed to the group with several pounds of gold flakes, motivating and encouraging the crews that their investment for the season has actually yielded what they’d hoped for.
Here in Mark 2:1-12 we find Jesus back in Capernaum at what some believe is his own house. The exorcising of the synagogue demon, the healing of many and the healing of the leper has made headlines, to say the least. In this episode, we’re going to see another kind of digging for gold. There were four people carrying a paralysed man on his “stretcher”, which can also mean that they were carrying him on his bed or (military-like) cot; and they had to dig through the earthen roof. I have no idea how challenging this must have been or if it required little effort. We do know that they could not get into Jesus’ presence because of the thickness of the crowds. So, they had to do some digging in order to get to the “gold” they were seeking in Jesus. But we also see something here in Mark for the first time. The crowd. These are a mixed bunch, having the legal experts and the poor. The scene provides us with rich details.
This is how Mark constructs the scene: 2:1-5 introduces the crowd and the paralytic; 2:6-10a reveals the controversy among the legal experts (the scribes) and Jesus; and 2:10-12 wraps up the scene with Jesus healing the paralytic while providing insight into the word Jesus was preaching.
First, the crowd (ochlos) contained what are thought to be the “am ha’aretz” (the people of the land). These are the poor and uneducated people who are ignorant of the law. However, according to rabbinical instruction, these people were to be separated from what we might feel to be common life (Myers). They were in a wilderness right in the middle of civilization. Jews were not to eat with them or travel alongside them. They were outcasts. This might be difficult for many of us to imagine in the United States.
Second, we must remember that in 1:45 Jesus was unable to enter a town because the leper’s news had spread so widely. People were coming to Jesus from everywhere. The news the leper spread is ton logon, the word that Jesus is preaching to the crowd in 2:2. Mark is tying these episodes together. So, it shouldn’t surprise us that the paralytic cannot be entered into Jesus’ presence because everyone was pressing into the house so that there wasn’t even room at the door. Astonishingly, this doesn’t deter the four carrying the paralytic. They (likely heading up the steps built on the side of the house) get the idea that if they won’t be allowed through the lone door in the front, they’ll make a door for themselves. They’ll persevere. Imagine the setting. Jesus is inside and the crowd has forced their way in, the poor and the legal experts, the curious and the suspicious. All of a sudden, the clay ceiling starts to crack and fall. An opening is carved large enough for a mattress to be lowered through with ropes. Likely, space is made for the spectacle and then there in front of Jesus and the crowd the invader lies waiting.
It is difficult for us to imagine the tension in the house. The legal experts are not happy when Jesus says to the paralytic “Son, your sins are forgiven.” Everyone is expecting a healing, even the four who lowered the paralytic (is the paralytic a child or an adult?). The entire group was expecting the typical (for Jesus anyway) and discovered the rare nugget. Sins are forgiven? The legal experts are providing a foretaste of what’s to come. In their hearts, they are incensed and are telling themselves that this man is blaspheming, the very charge that will send Jesus to his cross (14:64). They are upset, not because they feel God needs a defense and that only God (YHWH) can forgive sins, but because their jurisdiction has been overruled by Jesus. They are thinking that this paralytic’s condition is due to decisions to sin, or possibly a birth defect which would indicate inherited sin. And sin, to the Sanhedrin, Pharisees, and legal experts is debt, which they control through their interpretations of the Law. They feel Jesus has no right to act as a priest who speaks for God. Yet, this is exactly what Jesus does, first. This is what creates even more tension, which forces the crowd to ask the question, “Who is this guy?”
It is interesting to me that the entire scene features a paralytic, someone who is unable to move, someone who is, to the crowd, lifeless. Then, all of a sudden, the paralytic’s sin (debt) is forgiven, which ultimately leads to a healing. The paralytic is made to take up the bed and walk. Overtones of Jesus’ death and resurrection? “Which is easier to say? Your sins are forgiven? or, Rise, take up your bed and walk?” Is Jesus telling the crowd that both statements are synonymous? Is Jesus telling the crowd that the Son of Man from Daniel’s prophecies are coming true in these moments he’s with them? Is this the word Jesus was preaching to them?
If we pretend that we’re in the crowd what is Jesus telling us? Is Jesus merely saying that it’s ok to eat and travel with sinners? Or is the picture Mark is painting in this episode much bigger? The crowd pressed themselves into Jesus’ presence looking for the stereotypical preacher he was being made out to be, albeit a very special one. Jesus goes a giant step further, though. Jesus is speaking the word to them as well as to us today. For the crowd then and the crowd today, Jesus has come and he has authority on earth to forgive sins, to turn the world upside down. Jesus’ authority is always going to be challenged by those who control society’s debt because they cannot see who he really is and what he came to establish. Why was the forgiveness of sins so threatening to those in power in Jesus’ lifetime, and why is it still so threatening to those in power today?
What “behind the scenes” power influences society and how does society oppress most of us today? Are most of us not in debt over our heads? How has debt paralyzed society? Does it not prevent us from living the life God intended us all to live? How audacious (and miraculous) would it be for a governor to go around canceling debts for those who aren’t considered very wealthy? Would anyone be saying to themselves “Who does this guy think he is? He has no right to act like a President?” Would a crowd be pressing in on him, watching his every step and listening to every word? If the door was blocked with the backsides of people, how many of us would be looking for a way to “dig through his roof”? And if we were lowered in, what do you think we might find? Something more precious than gold? Hmmm.