Monday 7 October 2013

Authority (Mark 2:1-12)

1 A few days later, when Jesus again entered Capernaum, the people heard that he had come home. 2 They gathered in such large numbers that there was no room left, not even outside the door, and he preached the word to them.
Mark 2:1-2

     The last time Jesus was in Capernaum, he attracted a lot of attention from the locals mainly due to his miracles of healing.
     “That evening after sunset the people brought to Jesus all the sick and demon-possessed. The whole town gathered at the door, and Jesus healed many who had various diseases.” (Mark 1:32-33)
     However, it is worth noticing that Jesus went to Capernaum in the first instance to teach. His first stop was the local synagogue (Mark 1:21) where Jesus initially amazes the people with what he said - not with what he did. “He taught them as as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law.”
     So much so that Jesus chooses to leave Capernaum when his newfound popularity as a miracle healer gets out of hand. “Let us go somewhere else,” he tells Simon and his friends, “To the nearby villages - so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.” (Mark 1:38) Jesus came as a preacher of the gospel (Mark 1:14).

     Here in Mark Chapter 2, Jesus returns to Capernaum only to be greeted by the same crowd who hear that Jesus has “come home” (Mark 2:1). In other words, they have been eagerly awaiting his return.
     The scene opens with a packed house: standing room only. Think of a London Tube train on New Year’s Eve.
     What did Jesus do? “He preached the word to them.”

3 Some men came, bringing to him a paralysed man, carried by four of them. 4 Since they could not get him to Jesus because of the crowd, they made an opening in the roof above Jesus by digging through it and then lowered the mat the man was lying on.
Mark 2:3-4

     The four friends climb to the top of the roof. We’re not sure whose house this is, I suspect it’s Peter’s mother-in-law’s - the same place Jesus stayed the last time he was in Capernaum. I’m told that roofs in ancient Israel were flat so these four friends (maybe more than four?) carry their paralysed buddy up to the top of the house and start digging a hole right above where Jesus was sitting (standing?). Then, very carefully, they lowered their paralysed friend on the mat he was lying on in front of the whole crowd of onlookers - right in front of Jesus.
     These friends did all this to get their paralysed friend to Jesus. Jesus sees that. Notice how verse 5 tells us that Jesus saw “their” faith. (Compare Matthew 9:2, Luke 5:20. Similarly Paul in Acts 14:9 which we looked at recently.) What was it that Jesus saw, I wonder? Their concern and love for friend? Their complete trust in Jesus’ ability to reverse his physical ailment? Their dogged determination to reach Jesus despite the odds? Whatever it was, Jesus saw it. In fact, it was the trigger that led to Jesus not simply healing the man’s paralysis but forgiving his debt of sin.

5 When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralysed man, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” 6 Now some of the teachers of the law were sitting there, thinking to themselves, 7 “Why does this fellow talk like that? He’s blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?”
Mark 2:5-7

     This is Jesus’ first encounter with the teachers of the law, at least in Mark’s gospel. Back in Chapter 1, the crowds remark how uniquely special and authoritative Jesus’ teaching is, “not as the teachers of the law.” (Mark 1:22) Perhaps word got round to these experts. When they heard Jesus was back in town, they made it a point to check Jesus out for themselves. Needless to say, the teachers of the law were not impressed with what they heard. “Why does this fellow talk like that? He’s blaspheming!”
     Jesus forgives the paralysed man’s sin. Instead of healing his physical condition, Jesus addresses his spiritual problem. “Son,” Jesus says to him. “Your sins are forgiven.”
     The scribes are outraged by Jesus’ remark but hold their tongue. Yet, somehow, Jesus is able to read their minds and so he turns to address the content of their hearts.

8 Immediately Jesus knew in his spirit that this was what they were thinking in their hearts, and he said to them, “Why are you thinking these things? Which is easier: to say to this paralysed man, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up, take your mat and walk?’ 10 But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” So he said to the man, “I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.” 12 He got up, took his mat and walked out in full view of them all.
Mark 2:8-12

     Which is easier - to heal a sickness or to forgive sin? In asking the question, Jesus draws a connection between the symptom and the disease. Jesus has the ability to solve both. The question is: Which is the more serious problem? Which is easier: to say to the paralysed man, “Walk,” or to say to him, “Your sins are forgiven”?
     On the one hand, the answer is obvious: Anyone can say, “Your sins are forgiven.” It is easy to say something like that if you don’t think sin is all that serious. Or if you think it’s an empty promise.
     Hence the reaction of teachers of the law. “Who does this guy think he is? Only God can forgive sin.” They think it’s empty talk. They dismiss Jesus as a fraud. Only God has the right to forgive sin because all sin is first and foremost an offence against God. Either they think Jesus is being flippant about sin. Or quite possibly, they think Jesus is a heretic who has just blasphemed a holy and righteous God.
     But at the very least, they are thinking of the question: Who is this man? And that is question Jesus wants all of us to consider. Who is he?
     And Jesus answers that question in verse 10, “But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” and to illustrate that answer, he says to the paralysed man, “Get up, take up your mat and go home.” Jesus heals the man.
     Jesus uses the lesser to illustrate the greater. He does the miracle of healing - the lesser - to prove that he has indeed forgiven this man’s sin - the greater.
     Authority. That is the main lesson of this passage. Not the healing nor the miracle. But the authority of the Son of Man to forgive sins on earth.
     The teachers of the law were at least right in thinking this to themselves: Only God has the authority to forgive sin. Jesus claims this authority upon himself, demonstrates this authority through the healing of the paralysed man, but hints at the manner in which he has received this authority to forgive sins on earth. He calls himself the Son of Man.
     At his trial before the religious leaders in Mark Chapter 14, Jesus reveals just what he means when he calls himself the Son of Man.
61 Again the high priest asked him, “Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?” 62 “I am,” said Jesus. “And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.”
     The Son of Man, according to Daniel Chapter 7, is the figure to approaches God in heaven to receive all authority to rule and judge the earth. The religious leaders immediately recognise the allusion, accuse Jesus of blasphemy and condemn him to death on the cross.

     Jesus has come with all of God’s authority as the Son of Man to forgive sins on earth.
     The passage ends with the response of the crowds: They praise God and say, “We’ve never seen anything like this!” And yet theirs is a response to the lesser miracle, not the greater. They see the paralysed man walk and so they rejoice.
     The scribes notice the significance of the greater act of Jesus in forgiving sin but their response is to sneer at him. Indeed, it may be their very religious education that has made them hostile towards Jesus, hardening their hearts towards Jesus. Who does he think he is?
     What ought to be our response? It is the response that catches Jesus’ attention - that of the friends, who, perhaps, only understand in part of who Jesus is, who only see him from afar, but see enough to respond in faith, trust and complete obedience. Nothing gets in their way in reaching Jesus - not the crowd, not even the roof.
     Jesus sees their faith, looks at the paralysed man, and says, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”

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