The Gospel reading for the Seventh Sunday of Ordinary Time tells us of the paralytic who is lowered from the roof and brought before Jesus. The story has a parallel in Luke 5:18-26 and Matthew 9:2-8. Once again the Gospel of Mark tells us that the fame of Jesus was such that the people of Capernaum and neighboring towns came to Jesus. In this story, they gather in Jesus’ house to hear him preach. The crowd is so large it that it spills into the street.
Through the Roof
Four men are so determined to bring their paralyzed associate before Jesus that they ascend the roof of the house with their friend in tow. They break through the roof and lower the paralytic down into a room in the house. Upon seeing the determination and the faith of the paralytic and his associates, Jesus tells the paralytic, child, your sins are forgiven.
A Model of Faith
The words that Jesus speaks to the paralyzed man are somewhat unexpected. The paralytic wishes to be physically healed, yet Jesus forgives him of his sins. In Mark chapter one, we recall that a leper fell at the feet of Jesus and asked to be healed; and Jesus cured him. The leper is, for the modern reader of the Gospels, a model of faith. The leper approaches Jesus with humility, rather than arrogance. These Gospel stories seem to tell us that we ought to do the same.
The paralytic, like the leper, is worthy of compassion. Yet in the first century, it would not have been unusual for a Galilean or a Judean to believe that paralysis or leprosy were signs of God’s just punishment. If a person suffered from an infirmity, “then they must have done something to deserve it.” Jesus challenges this harsh interpretation of Jewish Law by healing the leper, and forgiving the sins of the paralytic, with no questions asked. Jesus simply acknowledges the faith and trust that the two men place in Jesus.
But in the paralytic’s case, the statement by Jesus, your sins are forgiven, seems bizarre, even insensitive, to the crowd. And the Scribes, educated as they are the Jewish faith, immediately challenge Jesus. The scribes ask Why does this man speak that way? He is blaspheming. Who but God alone can forgive sins?
Jesus, the Messiah Who Makes the Kingdom of God a Reality
As is often the case in the Gospel accounts, Jesus uses the irony of a situation to teach a lesson. A paralytic is brought before Jesus, yet Jesus says your sins are forgiven. And then the scribes object: Who but God alone can forgive sins? So Jesus sets about to demonstrate that he can forgive sins by performing a miracle in the presence of the crowd. More importantly, Jesus announces his intentions beforehand. Telling the scribes and the crowd in verse 10 so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority to forgive sins, Jesus then heals the paralytic. Jesus tells the paralytic to get up and walk, which he does. And Mark tells us how the crowd reacted to the miracle: they were all astounded.
What, exactly, is Jesus trying to prove by forgiving the sins of the paralytic, and then healing him? First, as the scribes state, only God can forgive sins. By forgiving the sins of the paralyzed man, Jesus tells us that he operates with the same authority as God himself. In other words, he is making a Messianic claim. Secondly, as the story tells us, Jesus can heal the sick. By healing the sick, the Sacred Author Mark tells us that Jesus offers proof of his Messianic claim, and in so doing, he also shows us that the Kingdom of God is at hand (Mk 1:15). Third, Jesus is communicating to the crowd that the Kingdom of God is about the restoration of the relationship between man and God. What was not perfect is made whole; where there was sin there is now reconciliation; and what was alienated from the community is now restored.
When Jesus returned to Capernaum after some days,
it became known that he was at home.
Many gathered together so that there was no longer room for them,
not even around the door,
and he preached the word to them.
They came bringing to him a paralytic carried by four men.
Unable to get near Jesus because of the crowd,
they opened up the roof above him.
After they had broken through,
they let down the mat on which the paralytic was lying.
When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic,
“Child, your sins are forgiven.”
Now some of the scribes were sitting there asking themselves,
“Why does this man speak that way? He is blaspheming.
Who but God alone can forgive sins?”
Jesus immediately knew in his mind
what they were thinking to themselves,
so he said, “Why are you thinking such things in your hearts?
Which is easier, to say to the paralytic,
‘Your sins are forgiven,’
or to say, ‘Rise, pick up your mat and walk?’
But that you may know
that the Son of Man has authority to forgive sins on earth”
-he said to the paralytic,
“I say to you, rise, pick up your mat, and go home.”
He rose, picked up his mat at once,
and went away in the sight of everyone.
They were all astounded
and glorified God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this.”