Malankara World

Sermons Based on the Lectionary of the Syrian Orthodox Church

Third Sunday in Great Lent (M'shariyo / Paralytic)

Sermon / Homily on St. Mark 2: 1-12

Holy Textures, Understanding the Bible in its own time and in ours, Mark 2:1-12

by David Ewart,

Sermon by the Rev. Dr. George Hermanson.

Gospel: St. Mark 2: 1-12

Mark 2:1-12 (NRSV)

1 When he returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he was at home. 2 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. 3 Then some people came, bringing to him a paralyzed man, carried by four of them. 4 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. 5 When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, "Son, your sins are forgiven." 6 Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts, 7 "Why does this fellow speak in this way? It is blasphemy! Who can forgive sins but God alone?" 8 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? 9 Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, 'Your sins are forgiven,' or to say, 'Stand up and take your mat and walk'? 10 But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins"—he said to the paralytic—11 "I say to you, stand up, take your mat and go to your home." 12 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!"

New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Mark 2:1-12 (The Message)

1 After a few days, Jesus returned to Capernaum, and word got around that he was back home. 2 A crowd gathered, jamming the entrance so no one could get in or out. He was teaching the Word. 3 They brought a paraplegic to him, carried by four men. 4 When they weren't able to get in because of the crowd, they removed part of the roof and lowered the paraplegic on his stretcher. 5 Impressed by their bold belief, Jesus said to the paraplegic, "Son, I forgive your sins."

6 Some religion scholars sitting there started whispering among themselves, 7 "He can't talk that way! That's blasphemy! God and only God can forgive sins."

8 Jesus knew right away what they were thinking, and said, "Why are you so skeptical? 9 Which is simpler: to say to the paraplegic, 'I forgive your sins,' or say, 'Get up, take your stretcher, and start walking'? 10 Well, just so it's clear that I'm the Son of Man and authorized to do either, or both..." (he looked now at the paraplegic), 11 "Get up. Pick up your stretcher and go home." 12 And the man did it—got up, grabbed his stretcher, and walked out, with everyone there watching him. They rubbed their eyes, incredulous—and then praised God, saying, "We've never seen anything like this!"

Scripture quotations from THE MESSAGE. Copyright © by Eugene H. Peterson 1993-1996, 2000-2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.

This story always fascinated me as a young boy: They removed the roof! Wow. How did they do that? Forgiving sins, and causing people to walk was nothing compared to removing a roof.

With all "miracle" stories in the Bible it is important NOT to get distracted by the special effects. The most important questions to ask are not: How did they do that? How was the physical situation changed?

The most important questions to ask are:

How did they do that? How were the social relationships changed?

We read about Jesus beginning his ministry in Capernaum. (Mark 1:21-28) That lesson introduced a theme that has been building week by week: the fame of Jesus is spreading and he is attracting larger and larger crowds. He is teaching like one with authority - and not like the scribes. And today, back in Capernaum again, for the first time some scribes are now in the crowd.

Being "at home" in Capernaum is a significant social locator. I was born into a small village, and being "at home" in a village is about a lot more than merely having a house to live in there. It is all about everyone knowing everyone else (preferably from birth) - and everyone knowing everyone's place in the village social life. It is not surprising that it took the folks of Capernaum a couple of days to respond to Jesus again after he turned his back on them a few weeks ago. (Mark 1:29-39)

Now we come to the part of the story that fascinated me so many years ago. How did those four friends get their paralyzed friend up on the roof? How did they remove the roof so that it didn't simply fall in on top of Jesus? Young inquiring minds want to know! Alas, that is not the point of the story.

What does Jesus see?

He sees their faith.

How does anyone SEE faith?

At the time of Jesus, "faith" did NOT mean "belief," or agreement with a set of ideas. Whenever we see "faith" or "belief" in the Bible it is almost always better translated as "trust," "commitment," or "loyalty."

Trust, commitment, and loyalty can be seen by the actions of the four friends. Somehow they got that guy up on the roof, and then they removed the roof, and then they had brought with them a mat and some ropes with which to gently lower their friend before Jesus. Trusting that Jesus could and would heal their friend. That is what trust, commitment, and loyalty look like.

The next thing that Jesus says is actually the turning point and key to this whole story.

What does Jesus say?

He says: Son

When Jesus calls the man, "Son," he breaks the social barriers that normally isolate disabled persons. This is actually the real miracle in this story. While the man is still paralyzed; while his sins are still unforgiven; Jesus draws the man back into a full, honoured, place in the village social circle. Wow. How did he do that?

What does Jesus say next?

He says: Your sins are forgiven.

And note that Eugene Peterson's, The Message, translation, "I forgive your sins," mistranslates the Greek and commits a profound theological mistake as well. As Malina and Rohrbaugh note (pages 153-154):

Nowhere in the Gospels does Jesus say, "I forgive you." Passive-voice statements (such as, "Your sins are forgiven.") imply that God is the doer. It is God who forgives.

In Verses 7 and 8, Mark now reports on what we in the Western world would regard as personal, hidden, inner, experiences. Wow. How does he do that? How does he know what they are thinking?

Again, Malina and Rohrbaugh provide some helpful insight (Page 154):

The honorable man had a finely tuned sense of shame. This is positive shame, that is, sensitivity to one's honor standing in the community, and a keen sense of awareness of when that was or was not being challenged. Success (in meeting a challenge) required this kind of sensitivity. Here Jesus senses the challenge coming and meets it head-on.

Jesus demonstrates his honour precisely by being able to read the behaviors of the scribes that indicate they are doubting him (i.e., they are not trusting, committed, and loyal to him) and are ready to challenge his newly acquired high status among the people as a Holy Man and healer.

This is the first of many occasions where Jesus will successfully defend his honor against the religious elite leaders.

And he does it in his usual brilliant way by asking a question:

Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, "Your sins are forgiven," or to say, "Stand up and take your mat and walk?"

This is a trick question of course since both options are impossible possibilities. Well, impossible for us, but not for God.

And it is also a trick question for us because it gets us thinking about forgiveness and physical miracles and diverts us away from when the miracle really happened in this story; when Jesus called the man, "Son."

Don't get me wrong. It is a good thing to have one's sins forgiven. And it is a good thing to have one's paralysis ended. But it is a better thing to belong and to be loved.

The real question that Jesus did not ask the scribes and his fellow villagers is this:

Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, "Your sins are forgiven," or to say, "Stand up and take your mat and walk," or to say, "You belong and are beloved."

Wow. How does he do that? How does he nail the fear and hardness of our hearts so neatly?

No wonder they all proclaim, "We've never seen anything like this!"

But I'm still wondering how those guys removed the roof!

See Also:

Forgiveness, Healing and Wholeness
by John Jewell

Jesus' Authority to Forgive Sins
by Rev. Bryan Findlayson

They Come - Sermon Based on Mark 2:1-12
by Jerry Goebel, One Family Outreach

The Interruption - A Reflection on Mark 2:1-12
by William Loader, Murdoch University, Australia

Sermons, Bible Commentaries and Bible Analyses for 3rd Sunday in Great Lent (Paralytic Sunday)

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