Mark 2: 1-12
2When he returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he was at home. 2So many gathered around that there was no longer room for them, not even in front of the door; and he was speaking the word to them. 3Then some people came, bringing to him a paralyzed man, carried by four of them. 4And when they could not bring him to Jesus because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him; and after having dug through it, they let down the mat on which the paralytic lay. 5When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” 6Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts, 7“Why does this fellow speak in this way? It is blasphemy! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” 8At once Jesus perceived in his spirit that they were discussing these questions among themselves; and he said to them, “Why do you raise such questions in your hearts? 9Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Stand up and take your mat and walk’? 10But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins” —he said to the paralytic— 11“I say to you, stand up, take your mat and go to your home.” 12And he stood up, and immediately took the mat and went out before all of them; so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this!”
Back when I was practicing law and trying cases I was often amused by my observations of the jury during the trial.
You need to understand the set up.
The judge sits up front behind a high desk.
The jury sits in a box either to the left or right of the judge, with the witness stand between judge and jury.
The lawyers and their clients sit behind tables out front; the plaintiff close to the jury and the defense away from the jury.
I could watch the jury from my table.
The jury’s job is to watch and listen and then make a decision of some kind in the end.
They are the audience.
I could see their reactions to the drama unfolding in front of them.
Questions are asked.
Answered are given.
Legal arguments made.
Their eyes were always moving.
They look at the lawyer when she speaks.
They look at the witness when he speaks.
They look at the judge when she speaks.
You can tell when they are bored.
You can tell when they are engaged.
You can tell when something happens that catches their attention.
You can tell when they understand what you want them to understand.
It was my task to make sure they were engaged when I was speaking.
How do lawyers do that?
There are many ways.
But the most important is to know your message and be ready to proclaim it any chance you get.
Under whatever circumstances you are given.
Someone says something or does something and you immediately say:
“See, that proves my point!”
Which brings us to today’s text.
Another miraculous healing, right?
Well, in part.
As I have said, most, if not all, miraculous healing stories in the Bible are reported not to demonstrate the power of God, although they do, but as illustrations of a particular message.
A particular message for a particular audience.
The particular audience looks on, listens and then makes some sort of decision.
Some sort of decision about Jesus.
Who he is.
What authority he has.
This week’s text is a very good example of how Jesus does this.
We can divide this brief text into several scenes.
Jesus is in Capernaum.
At his home base.
A large crowd has gathered to hear what he has to say.
So many that the room is full and there is a crowd around the front door.
He is speaking the “word”.
Mark is silent.
But Jesus message to this point has been this:
The Time has come … The Kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!”
The crowd listens.
Down the road come a group of people, four of them carrying a man on a pallet.
He is obviously paralyzed.
They point to the crowd around the door and someone yells, “Jesus must be in there! Let’s go!”
They carry the pallet up to the house and demand to be let in.
They want to take the man to Jesus.
They can’t get through the crowd.
So, they climb up onto the roof and start ripping a hole in it.
Jesus is still speaking.
Suddenly, there part of the ceiling is torn away.
Everyone in the house looks up stunned.
Maybe someone screams.
Then the pallet is lowered into the room.
Dropped on the floor.
Right in front of Jesus.
What the heck?
Jesus knows immediately what is happening.
It takes just a moment for everyone else to understand.
This kind of thing happens to Jesus all the time.
Maybe not quite so dramatically.
Someone wants this guy to be healed and has faith that Jesus can do it.
He’s done it before, right?
And Jesus sees an opportunity, not just to speak his message, but to prove it.
To demonstrate it.
To demonstrate the that the Kingdom of God is near.
In fact, right here.
And he has the authority of God.
How is he going to prove that point?
Well, he sees a bunch of scribes in the room.
The religious authority of the day.
Their job is to make sure folks who want their sins forgiven to come to the temple and make a sacrifice of atonement.
They also think sickness and sin are somehow connected.
They believe this man’s paralysis is a divine punishment for some sin, to be healed, that sin must be forgiven.
So if he wants to be healed, he has to come to them.
Jesus takes a moment to evaluate how he can use this spectacular event to make his point.
And then Jesus acts.
He says to the paralyzed man”
“Son, your sins are forgiven.”
And there is silence.
This is … unexpected.
Jesus does not say, “Get up and walk.”
But, “Your sins are forgiven.”
I have this image of the four who carried this poor soul all the way to Capernaum then up onto and finally down through the roof.
“Your sins are forgiven?”
“What about the healing?”
“What about the walking?”
The crowd looks back and forth between Jesus and the paralyzed man and the four.
The other side of the room.
Over in the corner.
The scribes have a different problem with all this.
“Wait, what did he say?”
“Only God can do that!”
“He’s a blasphemer!”
So, the crowd’s eyes are darting from Jesus to the paralyzed man, to the four who brought him, and now to the scribes.
What is going to happen next?
The room becomes silent.
Jesus asks the scribes what their problem is.
“You think I don’t have the authority to forgive his sins?”
“OK, here’s a question:
Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Stand up and take your mat and walk’?”
The trap has been set.
Jesus knows what they will say.
They will say it would be harder to tell the man to get up and walk.
Because if Jesus can make him walk, and his paralysis is a divine punishment for some sin, then Jesus can wield the divine power of forgiveness as well.
So, they don’t think that any of that is going to happen.
Then Jesus springs his trap.
He tells the scribes – in his best courtroom whisper – the one that allows everyone to hear – that he is about to prove he has the authority from God to forgive sins.
He tells the man to get up and walk, and guess what?
Jesus has the authority and power to forgive sin.
Now the “jury” – the crowd – has seen all this.
They are convinced that Jesus not only does Jesus have the authority to forgive sins, he does, not in response to some sacrifice in the Temple overseen by religious officials.
But in response to faith.
This is a powerful message.
One article I read this week put it this way:
Jesus fundamentally challenged the social and religious structures of Israel, demonstrating that YHWH is beyond human control. Clearly, “the Temple and the priesthood that serviced it need no longer be recognized as the way station between God and humans.” Jesus here is assuming not only God’s prerogative, but also priestly duties.
That is what is going on in this story.
Jesus is taking on the religious establishment.
You are out of a job.
No longer necessary.
Jesus is saying, “I have come to change things.”
“No longer are the religious minions in the Temple in charge of your relationship with God.”
“And I am a sin forgiver.”
“I am a soul saver.”
“I make people whole.”
“I have the authority of God.”
It’s game on!
And the crowd?
What do they do?
They were amazed!
Indeed, the Kingdom of God was very near.
Right here in this room!
In the form of Jesus himself.
They believed it glorified God.
Message delivered – and received – and believed.
And that is the message we are to receive from this text, as well.
That Jesus is the Kingdom of God come near.
That Jesus has the authority of God to forgive sins.
Not through some sacrament under the control of religious authorities.
But though faith.
This is amazing.
Something we nave never seen before.
The forgiveness of our sins.
Making us whole.
The kind of healing that we need.
The kind Jesus gives.
Thanks be to God.