In the presence of many who doubt Jesus’ ability, Jesus forgives and heals a paralyzed man simply by speaking the word. There will always be those who doubt the power of Jesus’ word. However, as Peter reminds us, though our flesh will perish, the Word of the Lord will stand forever (1 Pe 1 24-25). As such, through faith in the gospel message we receive the promise of life everlasting. God can do all things. God has given us a bold confidence that even those doubters around us can be blessed and know God as we of faith do.
Commentaries often give extensive treatment to this pericope because it contains the first reference to faith (as a noun) in Mark’s Gospel, the first use of the term Son of Man, the first instance of conflict between Jesus and the religious leaders, and (aside from 1 4) the only mention of forgiveness of sins. The story itself is also told with vivid detail that captures the imagination and ensures a popular hearing.
The presence of faith becomes a recurrent theme in Markan miracle stories (2 5; 5 34; 10 52; Cf 5 36; 6 56; 9 23), but no indication is ever given as to the specific content of this faith. It does not appear to be connected to any christological confession. In this passage, for instance, Mark does not say that the friends of the paralytic recognize Jesus to be the authoritative Son of Man. More likely, they exhibit faith in the word Jesus preaches (v 2), in the message that the kingdom of God has come near (Mk 1 15). By saying that Jesus sees their faith, Mark emphasizes further that this faith is a confident trust that shows itself in action.
The link here between forgiveness of sins and healing does not necessarily imply that the man’s paralysis was a divine punishment which can only be removed once his sins have been forgiven. Rather, illness and sin alike are manifestations of evil that can be overcome when God’s rule is established. Likewise, the distinction between which is easier and harder (v 9) is made with reference to verifiability rather than accomplishment. Both the forgiveness of sins and the healing of disease involve a divine abolition of evil, but the latter is easy to verify in a way that the former is not. When the paralytic rises from his bed and walks, the crowd may recognize that God has indeed removed his illness, and they may also be willing to accept Jesus’ claim that God has forgiven his sins.
The charge of blasphemy (v 7), however, implies that there is yet another dimension. (There are numerous themes at work in this text!) If the scribes simply rejected Jesus’ gospel message regarding the nearness of God’s kingdom and the current availability of forgiveness, they would accuse him of heresy not blasphemy. They perceive, rightly, that Jesus intends to locate this new manifestation of divine authority in himself. The theological claim of Mark’s Gospel is not simply that the rule of God has come near but that it has come near in the person and work of Jesus. If this claim were false, Jesus would indeed be a blasphemer, for he is presented here as one who professes to do what only God can do forgive sins (Mk 2 7, 10). Ironically, as Jesus’ accusers ponder this question, Mark describes Jesus as knowing their hearts, which is also something that only God can do (1 Sam 16 7; 1 Ki 8 39; Ps 7 9; Jm 11 20)! Thus, Mark’s readers are presented with stark alternatives regarding Jesus (true agent of God or blasphemer) but are left in no doubt as to which alternative they ought to accept.
Notice how direct this is. As he does in other places, Jesus does not here say, “Go and offer sacrifice to the priest and you will receive forgiveness at the temple.” Still, there are other passages in which Jesus does say something like that. For instance, in Mk 1 we read, 42 Immediately the leprosy left him and he was cured. 43 Jesus sent him away at once with a strong warning: 44 “See that you don’t tell this to anyone. But go, show yourself to the priest and offer the sacrifices that Moses commanded for your cleansing, as a testimony to them.” That’s how you were to demonstrate that forgiveness had taken place. But here the forgiveness itself had already taken place through Jesus.
Here you see that faith is this living, active thing that leads to good works and so on. Notice that it’s something you can see. Jesus sees their faith because it’s their actions that show their faith.
Here in Mk 2 1-12 by way of Jesus’ praxis he bestowed forgiveness of sins. It was through Jesus’ own person that this happened. cf Mk 1 4. That’s why it was so controversial which was why some of the scribes v 6 immediately charged that Jesus was blasheming v 7 because only God could forgive sins. Jesus was doing what was done through temple, priesthood and sacrifice. By way of his praxis Jesus was doing it in his own person when the paralytic was brought to him. Instead of straightaway healing him, Jesus highlighted this by purposely saying, “Your sins are forgiven you.” See v 14.
What is going on in vv 5-7 in light of Ps 103 3? Ps 103 2 Bless the LORD, O my soul, and do not forget all his benefits 3 who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases,
We see that it’s YHWH in Ps 103 who forgives sins and that it’s Jesus in Mk 2 who does the very same thing! Notice that this causes an uproar with the scribes who are saying Jesus can’t do that! Jesus is not God. The scribes, therefore, see Jesus’ activity as blasphemous because Who can forgive sins but God alone?” Only God could forgive sins. For someone other than YHWH to forgive sins would be blasphemous as the scribes say but amazingly Jesus does do just that, forgive sins. So from Mark’s perspective how are the scribes off base?
First, Mk would agree that the scribes are not incorrect when saying only God can forgive sins. Mk would agree with them there. Mk sees good Jewish theology there as we see in Ps 103 3 where it says only God can forgive sins.
But, Mk is pointing out here that the scribes are overlooking the one astounding possibility that, in fact, it is this same Jesus who is God come in the flesh who has forgiven sins. Therefore, Jesus is not blaspheming because he’s YHWH come in the flesh.
In fact, Watts argues that here Mk is saying that Jesus, through his activity – through his praxis of forgiving sins – Watts is saying that Jesus, by actively forgiving sins, is sending the message in a veiled, hidden and yet in a powerful way that he is none other than God come in the flesh. In fact, it was Jesus coming as YHWH to the world who forgave sins.
Praxis is the public activity of a prophet or someone whereby you send your message not only through words but also through your deeds and presence. Remember the importance of praxis in the Bible, for example, as with John the Baptist. Even before Jn spoke a word, he was telling everyone that he was the fulfillment-time Elijah because of his 1. clothing, 2. wilderness appearance – the place of the new Exodus, 3. baptizing in the Jordan River – recalling the old Exodus to say this was the new Exodus. And on and on and on …
Watts therefore argues that Jesus by his praxis is arguing who he is. Jesus doesn’t have to say anything; he’s just making sense to those who knew their story behind the Story. It’s this YHWH praxis, this praxis that no one should do except YHWH himself that discloses Jesus’ true identity. So Watts argues that here Jesus in his praxis shows his identity. He’s YHWH come in the flesh!
Then Jesus, to add insult to injury, does a miracle in Mk 2 9-11 to show them he can forgive sins and heal.
These scribes were not stupid but instead were the sharpest of the sharp. They knew exactly what Jesus was doing. They knew that Jesus had just made an astounding claim and they jumped at that. Jesus was claiming to bring the kingdom of God and the scribes knew that by his praxis and his words.
That the Lord God alone forgives sins is taught throughout Scripture such as at Ex 34 6-7. Jesus here spoke directly and immediately with God’s authority.
Jesus’ knowledge of his opponents’ inner thoughts revealed his supernatural perception and showed his divinity. Ironically, that was the very thing being called into question in v 7.
Even at this point Jesus’ enemies should have realized that Jesus was more than a man. To use their type of expression, they should have asked, “Who can read men’s hearts and thoughts except God?” But they were already beyond the point where they could think right thoughts regarding the truths of God. Matthew tells in Mt 9 4 that Jesus asked them, “Why do you entertain evil thoughts in your hearts?” Their wicked thoughts were concerned only with destroying the hated Jesus. Even Jesus’ exposure of their murderous hatred failed to disturb them.
Jesus went on to show them publicly what kind of thoughts they should be having with his question here in v 9. The answer to the question is obvious because obviously, it was easier to declare someone forgiven than to tell a paralytic to rise and walk. God alone could forgive sins as they themselves had asserted in their own question. But just as God alone had the power to forgive sins, so also he alone could bring the paralytic back to health by merely speaking a word of command. If the scribes had been thinking right thoughts, they would have concluded that “this Jesus was truly divine.”
Because, as noted in v 9, there was but one possible reply to his question, Jesus didn’t wait for the scribes to answer but answered his question himself with but that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins … (which he had done in v 5) he said to the paralytic, I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home (v 11). Up to forgive your sins Jesus had been addressing the scribes, but after that Jesus turned to the paralytic and gave the command that conveyed healing to him.
And the scribes got to see also that the Son of Man had the authority to forgive sins in what happened next. The paralytic got up at Jesus’ command, picked up his mat and walked out in front of everyone having been fully restored to health in an instant. Although the scribes could not see the effect of Jesus saying your sins are forgiven, they certainly witnessed the effect of the second command as the man got up and walked away.
Ergo, if Jesus had the authority to do heal in his own name, he had the authority to do the other – forgive sins – as well. The act of healing stamped him as God because it was only God who could forgive sins. As such, Jesus could also exercise the other divine right of forgiving sins.