Reflections on Mark 2:1-12 Part 1

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"They were all amazed and glorified God" (Mark 2:12)


Jesus had begun his miracles in Capernaum, in the synagogue, exorcising the man with the unclean spirit. His ministry continued in the house of Simon Peter with the healing of Peter’s mother-in-law and later that day healing ‘many’ among the crowd before leaving the city. He then healed the leper in Galilee and now he is back in Capernaum once again. We do not know, but presumably this episode takes place in the house of Peter, as in the first chapter.

This is an intensely dramatic episode constituting a climactic moment in the public revelation of the identity of Jesus which began with the words of John the Baptist, Jesus is “The one who is more powerful than I”, the sandals of whom John is not worthy to untie (Mark 1:7). It continues in the words of the man with the unclean spirit who recognises him as the ‘Holy one of God’ (Mark 1:24) and is confirmed by the demonstration of divine power in the mass healings at Simon Peter’s House. Then there is the revelation of radical mercy and compassion in the healing of the leper and now we have the most extraordinary revelation that causes quite a stir in official circles, a revelation that amounted to blasphemy in the eyes of his critics, deserving the death penalty. Here it is revealed that Jesus has the authority to forgive sins, the prerogative of God alone. We have a clear manifestation of the Kingdom of God in the actions and person of Jesus.

Jesus returns to Capernaum, word gets around immediately and the news inevitable attracts a large crowd. It is important to note that once again a private residence is at the centre of Jesus’ ministry. Jesus acts both within and outside official circles and in all possible places, in the synagogue, in the open air and in private homes. One might well ask ‘are our homes, like Peter’s, centres for proclaiming the message that a vital, life-saving encounter with Jesus is now possible?

The house is packed and it is absolutely impossible for any late-comers to enter. There are no seats or standing room. Jesus becomes completely inaccessible and many remain outside, unable even to catch a glimpse of him.

We have three different groups in this scene and each corresponds to a different approach to, and a different inner disposition towards, Jesus. We have Jesus, the protagonist, at centre stage; we have the Scribes, critical and hostile religious leaders of the time, occupying the privileged front row seats; we have the crowd making up the general audience who have come to satisfy their curiosity; and finally we have the paralytic and his four assistants, the only truly committed believers. The event begins and ends with the crowd thereby establishing a sort of framework for this action packed episode. All show interest of a sort in Jesus. It is the small group of five that initiates the dramatic action.

There are two contrasting groups: the self-sufficient leaders puffed up by the illusion of their own self-importance and learning sitting comfortably in the front row nearest to Jesus (so near, yet so far away). Either they arrived well before time or the crowds, who bow down before these reverend leaders, not daring to block their way, let them through. The other group, that of the paralytic and his assistants, the last to arrive, are the most vulnerable. The paralytic, relying 100% on his friends, contrasts strongly with the self-sufficient religious leaders. On the one hand we have pride, self-sufficiency and a critical spirit and on the other complete dependence and vulnerability where faith, hope and love all combine to make up this small compact group united in edifying solidarity. We also see here two kinds of faith; the faith that saves and heals, that of the group of five, and the faith of those who believed in Jesus’ healing but could not go beyond that. In one there is radical, unswerving commitment and in the other, non-committal curiosity here apparently only for the drama which is about to unfold.

Neither the crowd nor the Scribes would let the group of five gain access to Jesus; their self-interest and curiosity marginalised this group of genuine believers. The company of five, the paralytic and his four helpers had no means of approaching Jesus but they were not put off by the apparently unsurmountable obstacles in their way. They wanted to get to Jesus at all costs and nothing would stop them.

This is the first time in Mark that Jesus has to confront the religious leaders and it is they who seek the confrontation, not him. They feel provoked by the holiness of Jesus (‘the Holy one of God’), by his mercy and compassion, by his power and influence. They felt threatened. They urgently needed to find out who this person was and how best to defend their authority and position and maintain the esteem of the people. They were about to find out who Jesus really was and it was not going to be a comfortable experience for them.

Scripture makes it quite clear on whose side God is on
He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. (Luke 1:51-53)
The paralytic occupied the last place in this gathering but it is he who is helpless, the vulnerable, who occupies the first place in the healing ministry of Jesus, not the self-sufficient Scribes, so near physically yet so distant spiritually. Here we have a clear application of the principle the last will be first (Matthew 20:16). The logic and ways of God are indeed so different from ours (Isaiah 55:8, 9). ‘First come first served’ is not the logic of God, neither should it be the logic of the Christian. It is interesting to note that Jesus was preaching the Word and the religious leaders were sitting in the front row. Indeed, they needed to learn but were unable to because of their inner disposition and their inner blindness; they lacked the humbleness of heart.
He leads the humble in what is right, and teaches the humble his way.(Psalm 25:8-9
‘God opposes the proud, but gives grace to th humble.’ (James 4:6)
Yes, they occupied a privileged position but this was of no avail to them. It is the same for us. In order to understand the Word of God, to be taught by God, to be guided by the Holy Spirit our disposition must be right.

With which of the categories do we identify; with the curious, with the ones with saving faith or with those with the critical and sceptical mindset? There might well be elements of all three but which prevails?

What characterises the actions of those who have saving faith is commitment and perseverance; they let nothing stand in their way. They spare no time, effort or expense (repairs to the roof must have come at a cost!).

Jesus, the authoritative teacher and mass miracle worker, now reveals himself to be much more than an ordinary man, much more than a prophet, much more than a miracle worker to the consternation of some, to the surprise of many and to the joy of a few.

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