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"Who But God Alone Can Forgive Sins?"

January 14, 2011

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This Gospel passage is a good example of the joining of two stories: a healing miracle and a teaching incident. Its purpose is to link the physical cure to the deeper moral reason for the sickness. Jesus is back in Capernaum, a town which laid claim to being his home, for he worked so many of his miraculous cures there. Crowds mobbed him once again and besieged the house in which he was teaching, so that access to him was blocked. At this point the four friends of a paralytic, who are carrying the sick man on a stretcher, come up with a novel plan to get their patient to Jesus. They can’t enter through the door because of the crowds, so they slip up the back stairs to the terrace, and scoop away the light flooring, making a hole through the ceiling. Then to the astonishment of all inside, they lower the paralytic on his stretcher through the exposed ceiling to Jesus’s feet ! Jesus must’ve been surprised like everyone else, but he isn’t upset. “My son, your sins are forgiven,” is his greeting to the paralytic. And with that, all hell breaks loose ! There are some Jewish theologians sitting there in discussion with Jesus, and they are annoyed by his words. In their minds, they think, “but this is blasphemy! Who but God can forgive sins? And this upstart, here!” Jesus knows their inner thoughts and challenges them: “friends, is it easier to say, ‘your sins are forgiven’, or ‘take up your bed and walk’ ? Well, both are equally difficult, aren’t they? However the second can be verified immediately, while the first statement cannot. But so that you may know that the Son of Man has the power to forgive sins”, now Jesus turns to the sick man, “I say to you, stand up, take your bed and go home.” The physical cure here is linked to the spiritual healing and this is the most important aspect of the teaching. In doing what only God can do, that is forgive sins, Jesus stakes his claim to be divine. As we remarked earlier, this passage links two stories, and it is probable that the teaching story about the forgiveness of sins comes from a later time in Mark’s Gospel. It has been added here to give a teaching to the Christian community on the sacraments of healing and reconciliation.
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