A Twist in the Tale

We all know the story of the paralytic who was healed by Jesus Christ. His friends take him to see Jesus and because of the crowd they decide to go up to the roof and make a dramatic entrance. Jesus heals the paralytic, the crowd is amazed and everyone goes home. At least that is how most of us will remember the story. But there is one important aspect of the story that can be completely missed. One way by which we can get a clearer idea of what the author’s intent is in writing any passage is by carefully noting things that are out of the ordinary in the passage. When the author adds some detail or omits some detail that would have ordinarily not been there. Or when a statement seems out of place or odd given the flow of the rest of the passage.

Let’s look at the passage about the paralytic (Mark chapter 2:1-12) to see what I am getting at. But first picture the scene in your mind. Jesus is in the room surrounded by people. They hear some noise above their heads, look up and the roof is removed and this paralytic man is lowered to the ground (verse 4).  Jesus sees the faith of this man and his friends (verse 5) and says, “Son …”.  Ordinarily I would expect him to say “Rise, pick up your bed, and go home”. We already know he has the power to heal; he healed a man with leprosy, Simon’s mother-in-law and many others in the last chapter. It is also quite obvious what the paralytic man and his friends are expecting after going through all this trouble. The man has come to be healed and that is what we would have ordinarily expected to happen next. But there is a plot twist, Jesus says “Son, your sins are forgiven“.  At this point, let me suggest to you that the author is trying to let us understand that Jesus is not just a man who can heal but Jesus is able to do what only God can do; forgive sins. The scribes understand this that is why they question in their hearts “Why does this man speak like that?… Who can forgive sins but God alone?” If we miss the significance of what Jesus says to the paralytic man, we miss the entire point of the passage.

We could talk about the faith of the man and his friends. We could talk about the virtues of not giving up and pushing ahead even if it means making a hole in the roof. We could even talk about Jesus the miracle worker who can heal even the paralytic. But to do so will be to miss the heart of the passage which is easy to identify when you realize the strangeness of Jesus’ comment given the circumstances. Sometimes our familiarity with a particular story makes us read it less carefully than we ought to. We easily gloss over details that should be the light that makes the rest of the passage clearer.

The point of the passage is further made when Jesus heals the man to prove that he has the power to forgive sins. It is easier to say “Your sins are forgiven” than it is to heal. Because with healing there is physical proof of the result while with forgiveness there is no such physical evidence. So Jesus does what is easier to proof, the healing of the paralytic, to show that he has the power on earth to do what is easier to say, the forgiveness of sins. You see the whole passage is about the fact the Jesus Christ has the power on earth to forgive sins and he shows this by healing the paralytic. The primary miracle is that the man was forgiven of his sins by Immanuel (God with us).  And I think closely linked to that is the fact that Jesus saw that the man’s greatest need at that moment was that he didn’t have his sins forgiven. Which is not how most of us would have read the situation. We seem not to realize what a wonderful thing it is to be able say that our sins are forgiven. We seem not to realize that our greatest need is to be reconciled with God and the only one who has the power to do that is Jesus Christ.

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. – (Col 1:15-20)

The man came because he couldn’t move but he was given something more precious, he was given forgiveness.

Sin, like a venomous disease,
Infects our vital blood;
The only balm is sovereign grace,
And the physician, God.  – Isaac Watts


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