Jesus' capacity to draw a crowd is again evidenced in a return visit to Capernaum. Yet, Mark's focus is not so much on the magnetism of Jesus, but rather his authority. The healing of the paralytic reveals that the Son of Man has authority to forgive sins on earth.
v1-2. Jesus returns to Capernaum, but enters the town secretly. It takes only a matter of days before the population finds out where he is staying, which is most likely at the home of Simon and Andrew. Mark reminds us of Jesus' growing popularity by describing the townsfolk crowding into the house and out into the street. In response, Jesus uses the occasion as a preaching opportunity.
v3-5. The lowering of the paralytic, virtually into Jesus' lap, is vividly preserved in the gospel tradition. There are four men, indicating the serious condition of the paralytic. They are men of faith in that they obviously believe Jesus can heal their friend. Although blocked by the crowd, they scale the roof, make their way to Simon and Andrew's courtyard, cut through the pergola, most likely covered in vines, and lower the paralytic down in front of Jesus on a camp stretcher. The punch-line comes in Jesus' declaration of forgiveness, declared in his own right, by his own authority.
v6-7. Jesus, acting as the divine man, takes to himself a divine prerogative. Not even the promised messiah has the authority to forgive sins, yet Jesus exercises this authority and does so with an air of legitimacy. The religious in the audience react with skepticism. As far as they are concerned, it is blasphemy.
v8-9. Throughout the gospels Jesus demonstrates a canny perception of the thoughts of those he comes in contact with. This is not necessarily a divine ability, given that we are all capable of reading body language. Knowing what the scribes are thinking, Jesus asks a "which is easier to say" question. Obviously, it is easier to say "your sins are forgiven" than say "rise ..." It's impossible to verify a person's authority to forgive sins, but their authority to heal is easily verified.
v10-11. Although the words in v10 may belong to Jesus, they are more likely an editorial comment by Mark. Having addressed the scribes, Jesus turns to the paralytic and exercises his authority over sickness and disease in a healing word - "rise ...." Mark tells us that Jesus enacts this sign that we may know that the Son of Man has authority to forgive sins.
v12. In the presence of everyone, the paralytic gets up, picks up his camp-bed and heads home. The crowd responds in amazement at what they have seen, but not in faith at what they have heard. They fail to make the link between the forgiveness of their sins and the healing of the paralytic. Their praise to God is limited to what Jesus has done, namely, his exercise of authority over sickness.
It is quite rare in the synoptic gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke, for the writers to make an editorial comment explaining the meaning of an incident. They will often give us clues, a word here or a word there, even a particular arrangement of Jesus' words and deeds, but an explanatory comment, particularly a theological one, is very rare.
The synoptic writers seem honor-bound to respect the oral tradition of the gospel and so their own particular interpretation of an event is only ever subtly presented within the tradition. Of course, given that the oral tradition was firmly set by the time the gospels were penned, it is understandable that the authors would confine themselves to the tradition they and their fellow believers had received. In fact, Matthew, Mark and Luke could easily have written their gospels independently of each other using what was, by 60AD, a fairly uniform oral tradition of Jesus' words and deeds. None-the-less, most scholars do argue that there was some collaboration, usually in the terms of Luke using Mark as his main source and Matthew using both Mark and Luke.
Anyway, in our passage for study it looks as if we have one such editorial comment, a theological comment by Mark, rather than a self declaration by Jesus - "But know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins." Mark is explaining the theological purpose of this story. In the story, Jesus claims the authority to forgive the paralytic's sins and he enacts this authority in the form of a sign by healing the paralytic. It's easy to claim the authority to forgive sins, but not so easy to claim the authority to heal. Mark draws from the story the general principle that Jesus has authority to forgive sins, everyone's sins, not just the paralytic's; a forgiveness that is for the here and now ("on earth").
Of course, what we have here is the very basis of the gospel. Jesus has the authority to forgive our ongoing, weak, vacillating, foolish, rebellion against God; a rebellion often intended and at other times unintended. Jesus can forgive all our sins, right here, right now, past, present and future. Jesus has the divine authority to forgive, and he does it for anyone who trusts him to do it. Faith, in the sense of reliance on Jesus' legitimate right and power to forgive, achieves for us an eternal-right standing in the sight of God, and this because, when we link ourselves to Jesus, we are set free from the pollution of sin.
Discuss the relationship between faith and forgiveness in this story.