- The Explore the Bible lesson for March 10 focuses on Mark 2:1-12.
Everyone loves a good story, and this is as fine a story as any told in the Gospel of Mark. It is a story of loyalty, dedication, faith and wholeness. While those things are commendable, the real heart of the story focuses on the one with the power to change lives. This is his story.
Faith Expressed (Mark 2:1-5)
After an undetermined number of days, Jesus returned to Capernaum, his home base of operations in the Galilean region. Mark informs us Jesus’ status as a sort of local celebrity had been established after an impressive display of authority at the synagogue in Capernaum and of healing power that same evening (1:21-28, 32-34). Unsurprisingly, then, his return home drew the attention not only of amazed townsfolk, but also of skeptical religious leaders. This fellow was operating outside of their official sanction and was highlighting a distinction between their authority, derived from their Scriptures, and his seemingly innate authority. Even the crowds noticed (1:22, 27).
A crowd crammed into the house where Jesus taught. Mark chose not share the substance of his teaching here, offering only a basic description: “he preached the word to them” (2:2). Perhaps it was his words, maybe his reputation or both, but something compelled a handful of men to action. Mark paints a powerful scene. Four nameless men, carrying on a mat a man identified only as a “paralytic,” made their way to Jesus. Mark’s language suggests they made an effort to get the paralyzed man to Jesus, but the packed crowd proved impenetrable. Mark does not tell us what fueled the tenacity of these men, but they refused to be dissuaded from presenting this man before Jesus. In a bold move, they assumed not only the risk, but also the cost of damages as they dug through the roof of branches and dried mud above Jesus to ensure the paralyzed man would appear before the miracle-working teacher.
The shower of dirt and debris falling upon Jesus surely would have been enough to make any of us annoyed if not enraged. Jesus, however, assessed the situation differently. He saw something commendable. This was a radical display of faith, a display of faith that merited a response. That response was by no means expected, though. “Son, your sins are forgiven” (2:5).
The correlation between disease and sin was an accepted norm in the first-century world of Jesus. Surely, however, the men who remained poised on the roof of the house looking down on Jesus below were expecting something different. They did not take such extravagant efforts to have the paralyzed man appear before Jesus so he could have his sins forgiven. They believed Jesus could and would heal the man. Jesus had bigger plans in mind, though. This was not going to be just another healing miracle. This statement was the crux of the matter; the healing was just vindication.
Can you think on an occasion when you trusted the Lord boldly for something only to get something unexpected?
Authority Questioned (Mark 2:6-7)
Jesus’ words to the paralyzed man probably took everyone aback, above all the teachers of the law who had assembled in the house with the crowd. A prophet, perhaps, could say something like this (see 2 Samuel 11:13), but “this fellow” was no prophet. He presumed upon his ability to speak for the Lord. “He blasphemes!” was the charge they leveled in their minds. This would be the charge the religious leaders would make explicitly to condemn him to death (Mark 14:64). For those of us who read this story on the backside of the resurrection, of course, we know Jesus was certainly within his rights to extend forgiveness. At the time, though, confusion, doubt and suspicion ruled the day.
A startling feature of this and so many other passages in the Gospel is the inability and/or unwillingness of the people in the best position to recognize the identity of Jesus (i.e., the religious leaders) to actually do so. We would be wise to remember that knowledge of the Scripture is no guarantee of rightly assessing God’s activity if that knowledge is not accompanied by a consistent, growing walk with the Spirit. Are you walking with the Spirit?
Power Proclaimed (Mark 2:8-11)
One could deduce that Jesus anticipated the response of the teachers of the law and was primed to respond accordingly. Mark, however, recognized Jesus’ ability lay beyond human perception but rather with divine knowledge. Jesus brought their secret deliberations into the public hearing. The simple answer to his question, “Which is easier…?” is that both were easy. Anyone can say anything. If one could do the latter, however, then the ability to do the former would be vindicated. The stage was set.
From Jesus’ standpoint, the objective of this encounter was to demonstrate the authority of the Son of Man to forgive sins. Throughout the Gospels, one recognizes that “Son of Man” was Jesus’ favorite self-designation. It was a term that bore meaning from Daniel—particularly the scene in 7:9-14—and expanded meaning from Jewish literature of the century preceding the birth of Jesus. For Jesus, the name could both reveal and conceal, unlike the politically and socially volatile term “Messiah,” which carried too many expectations in the first-century world to be adopted by Jesus publicly. In this episode, Jesus used this opportunity to demonstrate that he, the Son of Man, had authority not only to heal but to forgive sins on the earth. The kingdom of God and its power had come to earth, and Jesus was the authoritative agent of that kingdom.
When, where, and how do we see the kingdom of God in our time?
Authority Demonstrated (Mark 2:12)
Though it is easily lost in the narration of the paralyzed man’s healing, one should not miss his response to Jesus’ words: he did exactly as he was told. He got up, took up, and went home. This was the appropriate response to one with such authority.
The crowd’s response bore more significance than they even knew. “We have never seen anything like this!” the amazed crowd exclaimed. The truth was that no one had. In their midst was one greater than anyone realized.
Some people struggle to believe that their sins have really been forgiven by the Lord. Might that be you? If so, just remember that there was man who walked on a pair of restored legs who would assure you that the forgiveness offered through Jesus was certain.
Jeremy Greer is assistant professor of religion at East Texas Baptist University in Marshall.