Jesus Heals Palsy in Capernaum (Mark 2:1-5)

Analysis and Commentary

Jesus Heals Paralyzed Man
Jesus Heals Paralyzed Man.
  • 1 And again he entered into Capernaum after some days; and it was noised that he was in the house. 2 And straightway many were gathered together, insomuch that there was no room to receive them, no, not so much as about the door: and he preached the word unto them. 3 And they come unto him, bringing one sick of the palsy, which was borne of four.
  • 4 And when they could not come nigh unto him for the press, they uncovered the roof where he was: and when they had broken it up, they let down the bed wherein the sick of the palsy lay. 5 When Jesus saw their faith, he said unto the sick of the palsy, Son, thy sins be forgiven thee.

    Jesus in Capernaum

    Once again Jesus is back in Capernaum — possibly in the house of Peter’s mother-in-law, although the actual identity of “the house” is uncertain. Naturally, he is swamped by a mob of people either hoping that he will continue healing the sick or expecting to hear him preach. Christian tradition might focus on the latter, but at this stage the text suggests that his fame is due more to his ability to work wonders than to hold crowds through oration.

    So many arrive, in fact, that no one can move around in the house; but rather than focusing on healing, he starts to preach. Note that at this time the “gospel” appears to be simple message of “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel,” as related in Mark 1:15. As elsewhere in Mark, little emphasis is placed on the actual message Jesus taught.

    One group, however, was not to be deterred either by the large crowds or by Jesus’ insistence on talking instead of healing.

    They are so desperate to get their friend with palsy healed by Jesus that they actually go up on the roof and remove some of it so that they could let their friend down through! If this were indeed the house of Simon Peter’s mother-in-law, one can only imagine what her reaction to all of this must have been.

    Does Jesus heal the man suffering from palsy? No, not at first. Instead, he tells him that his sins are forgiven — this is the first time Jesus is depicted doing this, although we can guess that it may have occurred before. While it is presumably good to be forgiven personally by Jesus like this, why didn’t Jesus heal him first? After all, that’s why his friends carried him all that way and tore apart someone’s roof.

    Then there is why the man was forgiven: faith. There is no indication that the man had faith in Jesus having the power to forgive or that he was the messiah. That’s what many Christians read into it, but it isn’t what the text says. A more appropriate reading is that the man, or at least his friends, had faith that Jesus had the power to heal — not faith in Jesus’ divinity, messianic role, or even ability to forgive sins.

    More: Faith in Jesus and the Forgiveness of Sins

    Why would faith in Jesus’ ability to heal illness result in forgiveness of sins? And what about the man’s friends — they are all included in “Jesus saw their faith,” but apparently only one was forgiven. If the faith is so important, shouldn’t they all have had their sins forgiven? Finally, note that this man’s sins weren’t forgiven by Jesus dying on the cross - obviously Jesus’ death was not, at least at this point in time, a prerequisite for the forgiveness of sins.

    What did “forgiveness of sins” means in this case? That’s the same question we asked back in chapter 1 when we read about John the Baptist presuming the authority to forgive sins. Had the man died a few minutes later, would he have gone straight to heaven, even without believing in the divinity of Jesus? What if he died a couple of decades later without ever believing anything about Jesus except that he had the ability to heal — would he have gone to heaven, or dropped straight into hell for his obstinate adherence to Judaism?

    None of this, except perhaps for Jesus playing a central role, is consistent with the contemporary Christian understanding of the forgiveness of sins or of salvation. At no point does Jesus ask the man to believe in him, to accept him as his savior, or to try and have a personal relationship with him — just the things evangelical Christians focus on. Unlike evangelicals today, this man could have actually have a personal relationship with Jesus, becoming one of his disciples, but as far as we know he didn’t.

    The gospels don’t say that any of those personally healed by Jesus started to follow him.

    Jesus didn’t ask the man to have a personal relationship with him. This act of forgiveness and healing were the “free gifts” that evangelicals today say that people can have, but then turn around and insist really do come with a price tag after all: belief in the basic doctrines and dogmas of evangelical Christianity.

    That’s not free, but in this passage Jesus shows what a free gift of forgiveness really is.

    The reason why this story of forgiveness looks so little like the doctrine of forgiveness today is that these early passages simply don’t have much to say when it comes to the theology of sin, forgiveness, and salvation. What we understand about these topics is the product of hundreds of years of theological and philosophical development. Even the “fundamentalists” who insist on getting back to the original Biblical texts frequently go well beyond what the words themselves say.

    Of course, not everyone around apparently believed that Jesus should have been forgiving sins in the first place...