Sermon Ideas For Mark 2:1-12 Part 1
In Fyodor Dostoevsky's The Grand Inquisitor, Jesus returned to earth during the Inquisition only to be chastised by a priest who claimed, "There are three powers, three powers alone, able to conquer and to hold captive forever the conscience of these impotent rebels for their happiness—these forces are miracle, mystery, and authority." Dostoevsky argued that Jesus rejected these forces and instead called persons to radical freedom based "on the free verdict of the human heart."1 Contrary to Dostoevsky, in Mk 2:1-12 Jesus verifies his authority to forgive sins as the Son of Man by performing a miracle of healing.
Throughout Mk 1:16-3:6, people throng around Jesus because of his ability to heal. Their faith was so strong that in Capernaum friends lowered a paralytic through the roof expecting Jesus to heal his paralysis. Instead, Jesus announced, "Son, your sins are forgiven." A controversy arose among the scribes as they realized Jesus dared to do what only God supposedly could do—forgive sins. Jesus responded by asking, "Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, `Your sins are forgiven,' or to say, `Stand up and take your mat and walk?'" Jesus used the external miracle of healing to confirm his authority to forgive sins. The external miracle affirmed the internal forgiveness.
Two christological implications emerge from this encounter. First, although this is the only text in Mark's gospel where Jesus forgave sins, Jesus' audacity and ability to forgive sins puts him on par with God. By granting forgiveness, Jesus did what people, especially the scribes, thought only God could do. Later church councils, culminating in Chalcedon, spent centuries trying to explain the relationship between God and Jesus. What the councils deliberated for centuries, Mark accomplished with a simple miracle story. Mark claims Jesus can do what God does. Jesus forgives and heals. Mark's narrative, in the form of a miracle and controversy story, establishes Jesus as the authoritative Son of Man.
Second, Mk 2:10 is the first instance wherein Mark utilizes the title "Son of Man." Mark places the title on the lips of Jesus as a self-designation. No wonder the scribes questioned and people were amazed. Not only did Jesus do the deeds reserved for God, but he claimed the title reserved in Daniel for God's apocalyptic agent of salvation who acted in Israel's behalf. By at tributing the title "Son of Man" to Jesus, Mark indicated via narrative that the final age of salvation has arrived; or as Mk 1:15 reads, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news."
Dare the church still proclaim that healings, miracles and forgiveness occur as signs of the dawning reign of God? If so, how and why can we speak of miracles and healings? There have been four general approaches towards miracles in church history. There are those who expect, sometimes even fervently anticipate, miracles. Cessationists claim God stopped performing miracles at the end of the apostolic era. Then, there are those who are open to miracles but only as rare occurrences. Others claim God does not intervene in the universe established to run by cause and effect and natural law.
Quantum physics provides a world view that allows for events which believers interpret as miraculous interventions by God. Often, traditional historical criticism has assumed a closed universe that denied the possibility of miracles in biblical times and now. The new physics teaches that change and uncertainty are at the heart of the structure of the universe. We do not live in a closed system like the Deists and Rudolf Bultmann maintained. Contemporary new physicists, such as Paul Davies and John Polkinghorne, theorize that the universe is open. Although it is believers who define events as miraculous, quantum physics provides a theoretical system that allows for new events and surprising changes in the universe. The natural universe operates according to laws of physical predictability that allow an openness to change or events which believers perceive as God's intervention, without over riding or breaking the laws of nature.
Narratives and testimonies, like Mk 2:1-12, are an effective means of speaking of miracles. Faithful Travelers2 tells of a summer Jim Dodson spent with his seven-year old daughter Maggie traveling from Maine to Yellowstone National Park and back. Jim and his wife had recently divorced and their son was on vacation with his mother. As a skeptic who yearned to believe, Jim ruminated over the questions Maggie asked. In the chapter "No Small Miracles," Jim pondered Maggie's query, "Dad, do you believe in miracles?" He remembered an accident a few years earlier. Driving on a snow-covered road, Jim ran over a boy who sledded across the road. Remarkably, the boy stood up and walked away unscathed. Was that a coincidence, fate, or a miracle? Was it a miracle that Maggie and her brother were coping well with their parents' divorce? Faithful Travelers, in narrative form like Mark, ruminates on the ordinary and miraculous.
Forgiving and healing the paralytic were dramatic events. Usually miracles of healing and forgiveness are quieter, though just as profound. When an alienated couple renew their marriage through counseling, commitment and changed behavior, a miracle has taken place. When a forty-year-old atheistic microbiologist becomes a believer, that is a miracle. When a loved one recovers from cancer, that is a miracle, even as it involves modern medicine.
In an era when physicists posit an open universe characterized by dynamic change and openness, the church need not be reticent to speak of healing and miracles through the stories and testimonies of believers. There remains a mysterious and miraculous element in life because of the continuing ministry of Jesus who is ushering in the reign of God.
John E. Stanley
Susie C. Stanley
1. Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Brothers Karamazov. Translated by Constance Garnett (Chicago: Encyclopaedia Britannica, Inc., 1952), p. 132.
2. James Dodson, Faithful Travelers (New York: Bantam Books, 1998).