Jesus and the Paralytic (Part 1)

Passage

And when he returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he was at home. And many were gathered together, so that there was no more room, not even at the door. And he was preaching the word to them.  And they came, bringing to him a paralytic carried by four men. And when they could not get near him because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him, and when they had made an opening, they let down the bed on which the paralytic lay. And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts, “Why does this man speak like that? He is blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” And immediately Jesus, perceiving in his spirit that they thus questioned within themselves, said to them, “Why do you question these things in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise, take up your bed and walk’? But 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, rise, pick up your bed, and go home.” And he rose and immediately picked up his bed and went out before them all, so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, “We never saw anything like this!”

Mark 2:1-12 (ESV)

Introduction

In this passage Jesus returns to Capernaum and enters what is likely the home of Peter to stay. Though His arrival would have presumably been kept hidden there were nevertheless so many gathered to Jesus that there was no room either in or around the house from which to sit or stand and listen to Jesus preaching the word. The word Jesus preaches is composed of and consistent with His message that, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” Mark 1:15 (ESV)

A group of four men carrying a paralytic on a mat attempt to make their way to Jesus through the crowd but are unsuccessful. The men are apparently able to get up to the roof of the house where Jesus is preaching and pull back the thatch to dig a hole through the mud of the roof in order to access Jesus. The faith of the men is evident in all their efforts to overcome such obstacles in order to get to Jesus.

Faith in Jesus the Christ

The paralytic is no doubt included in the group possessing faith. The object of this faith is the word Jesus preaches concerning the arrival of the kingdom of God and the correlative ability of Jesus to bring about healing. The nature of the physical problem the paralytic possesses – he is paralyzed – is perhaps an even greater testimony to the faith of the paralytic and those carrying him than the extreme efforts they set forth in order to get to Jesus. Note also that the men are believing on Jesus not because of His healing of the paralytic, which has not yet taken place, but because of the word that Jesus speaks and perhaps also because of reports of His miraculous healings confirmatory of His message.

Jesus perceives the faith of the men and tells the paralytic that his sins are forgiven. The implication is that the state of this man is somehow connected to his sins. Jesus thus perceives not only the faith of the men but also a truth – that the state of this man is somehow connected to his sins – which is not always the case where people are diseased or possess some other physical problem. For example, in John 9 a connection between a physical problem and sin is incorrectly assumed by others. Jesus is set apart from others in that He is able to succeed where others fail in perceiving not only faith in people but also when some disease or physical problem is so connected to sin.

Jesus Forgives Sins

Jesus addresses the paralytic and says, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” It might be argued that Jesus is making reference to God here as forgiving the man’s sins and not to Himself as having personally forgiven the man. Since the verb is in the passive in “ἀφίενταί σου αἱ ἁμαρτίαι,” Jesus may simply be making a reference to God forgiving the man’s sins without actually mentioning the divine name in an effort to be faithful to the commandment, “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain.” Exodus 20:7 (ESV) While it will later be argued that Jesus is making reference to God forgiving the sins of the paralytic it must first be made clear that Jesus is not merely making reference to God the Father carrying out this act of forgiveness or rather to God as distinct from Jesus carrying out this act of forgiveness. The argument that Jesus is making a reference to God as someone distinct from Himself assumes that Mark is attempting to communicate something through his use of a verb in the passive which is contradicted by the context where the word is found.

Mark explains that the scribes who are present when Jesus tells the paralytic that his sins are forgiven believe Jesus to be guilty of blasphemy. If Jesus were making reference to God as distinct from Himself forgiving the man’s sins then the scribes would have had no reason to react the way that Mark describes them as reacting. Thus Mark is not using the verb in the passive as described in the previous paragraph to indicate such a reference on the part of Jesus. Rather, Jesus is personally forgiving the sins of the paralytic! This is shocking to the ears of the scribes and they are offended at Jesus speaking this way. They believe Jesus to have blasphemed. Why? The meaning of their question, “Who can forgive sins but God alone?” must be that no one but God can forgive sins. Yet Jesus has done exactly this. Jesus does not tell the scribes that they have misunderstood the meaning of His statement. Mark does not do so either. Thus Jesus is personally forgiving this man’s sins and is thought to be uttering blasphemy on account of it for none but God can forgive sins. Thus the passage does not allow for the argument just presented to the effect that Jesus was referring to God as distinct from Himself forgiving sins.

Conclusion

Jesus has not violated the command of Exodus 20:7 and Jesus is not directly claiming to be God. The scribes nevertheless believe Jesus to be guilty of blasphemy. Why? The power and authority concerning the forgiveness of sins belongs to God alone, but Jesus is here exercising it. Jesus is not declaring that God as someone distinct from Himself has forgiven the sins of the paralytic. Jesus is personally forgiving the sins of the paralytic.


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