Reflection #1 for Sunday, March 8, 2020
Photo: Edi Libedinsky (Unsplash.com)
When he returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he was at home. So 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. Then some people came, bringing to him a paralysed man, carried by four of them. And 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. 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 fellow speak in this way? It is blasphemy! Who can forgive sins but God alone?’ At 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? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, “Your sins are forgiven”, or to say, “Stand up and take your mat and walk”? But so 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, stand up, take your mat and go to your home.’ And 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!’
Mark 2:1-12 (NRSVA).
Our passage begins with an assembled crowd – too large for the space and task. Jesus the teacher makes his attempt to speak from the family front door. People continue to come.
So, what are they looking for? Maybe some seek this wise teaching. Others arrive to critique it. Clearly some come to be healed. Perhaps others are simply attracted to fame.
A myriad of pure – and mixed – motives.
What, however, can we say about the motives revealed by the central figure in this account? What did Jesus see?
Jesus’ first response to the crowd gathering outside his home is to embrace the opportunity and to teach. He ‘was speaking the word to them’ is actually quite revealing of his content. Jesus is empowering this mixed crowd with knowledge about God.
The Gospel of Mark tells us relatively little about the content of Jesus’ teaching. Up to this point in the account there have been no parables told or lengthy accounts of the teaching of Jesus.
Our fullest content clue so far is found in 1:14-15 and : ‘…Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.’
The travelling Jesus is proclaiming news that is inherently good, about the surprising closeness of God’s kingdom. He is asking any who will listen to trustingly re-orient their lives toward this reality.
A second clue is also present. Mark 1:22-23 reads: ‘…when the sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught. They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes’. This response is reinforced only a few verses later in Mark 1:27: ‘They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another, ‘What is this? A new teaching—with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.’
Astounded. Amazed. ‘A new teaching – with authority’.
‘Empowering’ is a good word for all this. Here is something new, not necessarily obvious, and vital. And Jesus’ presence is a claim that God wants people to know – and to experience – the reality of God’s close kingdom.
This, it would seem, is also Jesus’ motive for all the other actions we have seen Jesus doing so far. The calling of his first disciples, the casting out of the unclean spirits, the many healings. It is summed up beautifully in the healing of the leper immediately before our passage above: ‘I am willing’.
The kingdom of God is here and the heart of this king is revealed in each willing act of grace.
One of these acts of grace unfolds as a group of friends arrive – one paralysed on a mat. The crowd also presents a problem for them. Their solution: the removal of the roof of Jesus home.
I imagine their dismantling of the mat roofing made a mess. Dry Mud. Bark and leaves falling from the ceiling that Jesus grew – and now stood – under. I see Jesus’ squint as a twig hits him in the face.
But what does Jesus see as all this unfolds? Our author writes nothing of inconvenience, vandalism, impatience. There is no rebuke to the rudeness of not waiting in line. No begrudged recognition of their initiative.
Jesus sees none of this. Rather, we are told, Jesus ‘…saw their faith’. Of all the possibilities, he saw their trust, and an opportunity to forgive and heal.
Of course, there is more that Jesus saw here. He saw the questions of the religious. Critical questions. Angry questions. Questions both asked and hidden out of fear. ‘Why does this fellow speak in this way? It is blasphemy! Who can forgive sins but God alone?’ (Mark 2:7). Without them even speaking, Jesus ‘perceived’ their accusations ‘in his spirit’.
His response: a call to consider the breadth of Jesus’ authority: ‘…so 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, stand up, take your mat and go to your home.’
Authority over disease demonstrated – at least in part – to demonstrate an authority to forgive.
So what does Jesus see? People in need of a new way of seeing. What does Jesus do? Offer empowering teaching. A call to faith. A demonstration of power and grace.
And once again many respond perfectly: ‘…they were all amazed and glorified God…’
In what way is it encouraging to realise that Jesus so generously and readily identifies faith? Do you see the act of the paralysed man and his friends as great faith or as small faith?
How do you respond to the thought that Jesus knows the thoughts of the scribes? Is this a threat to you? Is is a comforting idea?
In what ways can the healing miracles give us confidence in the miracle of God’s forgiveness?
What do you see as the perfect response to the authority of Jesus?