Jesus continues his public ministry and the crowds keep coming to him. People are expecting him to do great and good works and they can’t get enough. That’s what makes this episode about a man being lowered into the middle of a very crowded house so fascinating. First, imagine you’re crowded into the home of Jesus along with everyone else, and suddenly you notice part of the roof collapsing.
Homes in Jesus’ day in Capernaum would have been constructed largely with some wooden beams and mud-patch work for the roof. As this band of friends climbed up the roof and began to carve into the mud in order to lower their paralytic friend, they undoubtedly would have caused a commotion down below. Mud pieces falling from the ceiling, maybe bits of straw or hay scattering around the room. As their eyes were directed upwards, they notice several sets of eyes in a circle in the newly formed skylight, and then a man being lowered on a mat. You may think, “What never!” or “What boldness!” but the fact is that everybody notices and everyone is thinking something.
What do you think Jesus was thinking? It was after all his home that just had the roof torn open so that a helpless man could get help. Jesus tells us what he was thinking: while some were thinking “What nerve!” and others were thinking “What boldness!” Jesus was thinking “What faith!” These men believed that if they could just get their paralyzed friend in front of Jesus, his life would be different. He would be healed. He wouldn’t need to be carried along by his friends anymore. He could be restored to a healthy, vibrant life. And they were right. That is what happens when people meet Jesus. With Jesus, life gets restored and things get set back to the way they are supposed to be.
So Jesus speaks to the paralytic man and says, ”Be healed?” No! He tells the man that his “sins are forgiven.” What was Jesus doing here? Jesus is meeting the man’s need in a way that neither the man, nor his friends, nor anyone else in the house expected – he is meeting his need for forgiveness of sin. Tim Keller is helpful in understanding what is going on when he writes:
Jesus knows something the man doesn’t know—that he has a much bigger problem than his physical condition. Jesus is saying to him, “I understand your problems. I have seen your suffering. I’m going to get to that. But please realize that the main problem in a person’s life is never his suffering; it’s his sin.” If you find Jesus’s response offensive, please at least consider this: If someone says to you, “The main problem in your life is not what’s happened to you, not what people have done to you; your main problem is the way you’ve responded to that”—ironically, that’s empowering. Why? Because you can’t do very much about what’s happened to you or about what other people are doing—but you can do something about yourself. When the Bible talks about sin it is not just referring to the bad things we do. It’s not just lying or lust or whatever the case may be—it is ignoring God in the world he has made; it’s rebelling against him by living without reference to him. It’s saying, “I will decide exactly how I live my life.” And Jesus says that is our main problem. (Tim Keller, King’s Cross, 25-26)
Jesus isn’t denying that the man needs healing in a physical sense, but he is challenging everyone’s notion that Jesus is a really good guy, doing some really good things. He’s more than that. New Testament scholar N.T. Wright links the authority Jesus claims for himself, with the authority promised to “one like a son of man,” in Daniel 7, where:
There, ‘one like a son of man’ is the representative of God’s true people. He is opposed by the forces of evil; but God vindicates him, rescues him, proves him to be in the right, and gives him authority. In Daniel, this authority enables him to dispense God’s judgment. Here, in a fascinating twist, he has authority to dispense God’s forgiveness. (N.T. Wright, Mark for Everyone, 17).
Jesus by forgiving the man’s sins is claiming to be the one promised by God to battle against the forces of evil that conspire against God and His people. Jesus is saying that He’s one with the authority of God, and this demands a response.
Well this episode certainly provoked a response among the scribes, or religious professionals. They got the message and were questioning whether Jesus had the authority to do what he was claiming to do. If this man’s problem was a sin-problem, then his friends should have taken him through the proper channels. Forgiveness is something only God can offer, and if that was what this man needed, he needed to be brought to the Temple in Jerusalem, in front of the credentialed priests; not a wandering preacher and healer in his home?
Jesus does the unthinkable. He doesn’t just claim this authority for himself, but he wields it. He executes his authority and the result is the man who was once paralyzed, now picks up his mat and walks away. Something greater than the Temple and someone greater than their priests is now here.
Mark tells us that “they were all amazed and glorified God” and said “We never say anything like this before!” (Mark 2:12). That’s because no one and nothing like Jesus had ever been seen before. He is the long-awaited “one like a son of man” to oppose evil in all it’s forms, and do for God’s people what they could not do for themselves.