Sermon Ideas For Mark 2:1-12
This passage contains a pronouncement story within a healing miracle story that actually contains two miracles. The setting is contained in verses 1-2. The healing miracle is in verses 3-5a and 10b-11. The pronouncement story is in verses 5b-10a. The final reaction to the complete event is in verse 12.
This begins an important section in Mark’s Gospel wherein Jesus first comes in conflict with the religious leaders. Such conflict will result in a plot to kill him (3:6) but will finally conclude in his vindication at the resurrection. The passage portrays Jesus’ power over sickness and its ultimate cause: sin.
Jesus was at home in Capernaum presumably resting. But the crowds seek him out wherever he goes and he obliges them by speaking “the word” to them. In 4:33 we read that Jesus spoke regularly in parables to the people. That entire chapter contains a parable about “the word.” What he spoke here is not stated, but doubtless it was the gospel that he had announced in 1:14-15. Again, Jesus is portrayed primarily as a speaker of “the word.”
While he speaking this word, four men presented Jesus with a determination and confidence in his ability to heal that showed itself in extraordinary energy on behalf of a paralytic. They actually made a large hole in the roof in order to lower their friend down where Jesus could see him. But Jesus also saw their faith. Does Jesus’ seeing refer to the actions of the four, which doubtless everyone saw? Or, does it refer to more? Who can actually “see” faith? What is more, Jesus saw “their” faith. He did not see the faith of the paralytic, but his friends. The paralytic is almost an afterthought in the miracle. His condition, character, and faith are never described.
The Lord takes the initiative once again without any explanation or request from others and performs the most important miracle of this story. It is not the healing that is the primary miracle but the forgiveness of sins. This is the crux of the passage. Here we learn that faith and forgiveness belong together. Faith can move mountains (11:23), save lives (5:34; 10:52) and, as we learn here, faith is the door of forgiveness. But it was not a door that the paralytic opened himself. That is one of the twists in the passage. His friends and his Lord opened every “door” for him.
Moreover, Jesus has the authority to forgive sins. That is the point of the story. This point was the main issue for the scribes also, (this is their first appearance in the narrative) who silently accuse Jesus of blasphemy. This charge would lead to his crucifixion (14:64). But just as Jesus could see the faith of the four men, so he knew what the scribes were thinking. If the scribes asked, “Who can forgive sins but God alone?” Mark deftly begins his answer with Jesus’ silent knowledge of their accusation. Who alone, save God, could know the dialogues of the heart? The scribes did not realize the irony of their question, but the reader does who is now being confronted with the same issue of Jesus’ authority and must come to terms with his divinity.
At this point Mark brings together two issues: sin and human calamity. Jesus asks if it is easier to forgive sins or to heal? Mark’s answer is that it is easier to heal. Sickness and calamity are but the symptoms of a greater disease that estranges God and humankind. Christ did not come merely to heal but to cure. He is the superior surgeon who not only removes the diseased organ but also removes the source of the disease. It is not that Mark understands the paralytic to have been guilty of some particular sin for which he was stricken. Rather, as sin produces calamity between humankind and God, so therefore it also necessarily manifests itself in particular calamities visited upon a world benighted by evil.
However, the “Son of Man” (a title mentioned here first in the narrative) has authority over the calamity and its source. To demonstrate this he performs the second miracle when he tells the paralytic to rise. Up to this point there has been one quiet forgiveness miracle with the paralytic still lying on his mat and the scribes whispering in their hearts. Now comes the second miracle, which merely serves as vindication to the first. This is apparent from the way Jesus speaks to the scribes. He addresses the scribes when he heals the man, precisely in order that they know he has the power and authority to forgive. Jesus heals the man as a demonstration of his divine authority. Had he never spoken those words to the paralytic, the greatest miracle would already have taken place.
The paralytic rises and rolls up his mat and walks out in front of them all. A blasphemer could not make such things happen. This is why the crowd was astonished. They had seen Jesus heal before (1:31, 34) but never had they witnessed a miracle of the forgiveness of sins. They had not seen Jesus in conflict with both the powers of evil and the religious leaders, and emerge victorious. Did they know the prophecy of Isaiah 35:5-6 that the lame would leap like deer? Did they know that the “Son of Man” was an authoritative and apocalyptic figure (cf. Daniel 7:13)? Could they have possibly known that Jesus would invest that title with a deeper meaning through suffering and death? All they knew is that sin had met its match in this man from Galilee and they had never seen anything like it before. On the cross, they would see it again.
Roy A. Harrisville III, Ph.D. Trinity Lutheran College Issaquah, WA