Seventh Sunday after the Epiphany

by Crossings

Mark 2:1-12
(Seventh Sunday after the Epiphany)
Analysis by Bruce T. Martin

1Now when he (Jesus) returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he was at home. 2So 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. 3Then some people came, bringing to him a paralyzed man, carried by four of them. 4And 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. 5When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” 6Now 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 except God alone?” 8At 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? 9Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Stand up and take your mat and walk’? 10But 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.” 12And 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!”

DIAGNOSIS: Paralyzed by Disbelief

Step 1-Initial Diagnosis: Questions, Questions
Questions are good, if genuine. But otherwise they harbor deceit. When the scribes (including those among us who have something to lose by Jesus’ claim to be Son of Man) question Jesus’ declaration of forgiveness, they do not ask genuinely but deceitfully. They do not question Jesus directly, but rather hide their questioning “among themselves.” Such questioning reveals that they are not true disciples. They (and us, oftentimes) merely perceive the outward show, because the show — here, blasphemy — can be measured, analyzed and judged. Thus, the proverbial “paralysis of analysis.”

Step 2-Advanced Diagnosis: In the Heart
The scribes’ paralysis is diagnosed by Jesus more precisely as a paralysis “in their hearts.” Doubt, or disbelief, is precisely a questioning in one’s heart, a deceit within oneself that cannot face the truth. If the scribes have judged Jesus merely and nondescriptly as “this fellow,” Jesus in turn has judged them as unbelievers. A questioning and, therefore, unbelieving heart is a paralyzed heart, for it cannot “stand up” in the presence of God. Being paralyzed in the heart, one is oblivious to and cannot trust in Jesus as the Forgiver of sins.

Step 3-Final Diagnosis: Final Paralysis
Finally and tragically for the scribes, they are not found by Jesus to be among those who believe, who are thus forgiven (the “sons/children” of God). They are still among the measurers and the analyzers, being condemned as it were to measuring and analyzing all things, even the things of God. For, in the final analysis, which is to say God’s analysis or God’s judgment, the failure to trust in Jesus as Forgiver of sins is itself the final paralysis, the condemnation of inauthentic questioning.

PROGNOSIS: Saved by Faith

Step 4-Initial Prognosis: Sonship
The paralytic would have suffered the same condemnation were it not for faith. Those who forced their way into Jesus’ presence, who demonstrated an uncalculated trust in Jesus, were among the first in Mark’s Gospel to experience the kingdom of God “drawing near” (1:15). Quite unexpectedly, Jesus creates the saving relationship by direct address to the paralytic (teknon, child, child-of-God, my child/son/daughter; NRSV trans. son) and exercises his authority directly: “Son, your sins are (just now) forgiven.” In Jesus, the kingdom of God has arrived, without question, analysis or calculation.

Step 5-Advanced Prognosis: Faith Alone, Christ Alone
No more inauthentic questions, just “faith seeking understanding,” the heart’s glory. The question, “Who can forgive sins except God alone?” now genuinely points to Jesus alone, and humbles us all.

Step 6-Final Prognosis: That You may Know
The decisiveness of Jesus’ diagnosis and prognosis is demonstrated in the gospel’s priority over the law. It is a lesson we, like the scribes before us, do well to heed. The healing of the paralytic was unashamedly good, but it was not the ultimate good. As a “show” of raw power, it “demonstrated” the presence of God; but such demonstrations never go beyond the law, never getting to the gospel. We, the new age scribes, are too easily confused by power. We too often confuse forgiveness with goodness, gospel with law. We confuse our authority to forgive sins (the power of the keys) with a quest to end world hunger or abortion or whatever (okay, building-both the noun and the verb). Yet, as a final prognosis to this pericope, there are demonstrations of gospel that, to all appearances, masquerade as law (for the gospel is “known” only to faith). Jesus healed the paralytic “in order that you may know/believe” — not in the healing, but in Jesus. Just so, whenever we heal/love, we do so in order that they may believe — not in the work, but in Jesus. To be truly good, a work is done in faith for faith. Otherwise, a work remains merely good, and our primary authority to forgive sin is in danger of being lost.


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