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Forgiving the Sick

Jesus does it all. He defeats demons, he fixes fevers, and he heals leprosy. It seems like Jesus is making the world a better place. It seems like anyone can go to him with any issue and walk away fixed. The Roman listeners like this character Mark is describing. They had heard about the Jew named Jesus once or twice, but Mark is telling them stories for the first time which the emperor of Rome has tried to hide from his contemporaries for decades. If everyone found out about the stories of Jesus, the people may revolt against the emperor and the people may want to follow someone who solves problems like Jesus. In two stories following the healing of the leper, Mark reveals Jesus’ greatest power and purpose on earth to be the forgiver and to be the soul healer. He calls people to repent and believe because he wants to change their hearts. 

As word of Jesus’ healing power spread, the chaos of the crowd which followed him exceeded that of the chaos in the Coliseum following the victory of the great gladiators. All people want to see Jesus, touch Jesus, and hear every word he spoke. As Jesus enters Capernaum, back home, four friends catch wind of the carpenter’s son who disappeared months prior for some unknown reason. He is finally home again, and coming with quite the following. Over the previous decades these friends have done everything to care for their companion. They have fed him, washed him, and transported him around town. These friends were the only four men who cared for this lonely paralytic. So now the potential for seeing their dearest friend walking under his own power and living the life which he could have never imagined is the greatest thrill of hope, and nothing can stop them from getting him to the feet of Jesus. They gather up his mat and his few possessions and begin looking for Jesus, and they realize he is not hard to find. There are about one hundred people standing in the street trying to peek into the place Jesus is teaching. There is no way they can push past this crowd to get their companion inside the room with the great healer. But this is the only option of potentially seeing their companion ever taste the freedom of frolicking and the liberty of leaping under his own strength. They decide the only way to reach the great healer is through the roof over his very head to drop their companion right into the midst of the crowd. 

This house is utter chaos. Hundreds of people sit around the feet of the popular teacher and suddenly they hear the pounds of picks above their heads. The room goes silent and waits to see what might happen next. Suddenly the paralyzed man from the great city gate is laying on his mat at the feet of Jesus. Maybe he had a say in the matter, but more likely the friends went to their great lengths to this paralyzed man’s chagrin. “Son, your sins are forgiven.” (Mark 2:5) What does that even mean for this man? Jesus sees the boundless faith of the four friends; he sees the love they share for their friend, and he grants this man forgiveness. So the man continues to lay on his back as any paralyzed man does. The friends are thinking, “Wait, that’s not why we brought him to you.” The man is thinking, “Great, I guess that is it. What’s next?” And the scribes of the Pharisees are thinking, “Why does this man speak like that? He is blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” (Mark 2:7) Now Jesus has the room right where he wants them. He wants people to doubt, question, and reject him. He wants everyone to know not only that he is the only option, but he is the only option which accomplishes its purposes every time. “Why do you question these things in your heart?” (Mark 2:8) What does he mean by this? Who was questioning him? Nobody said anything. The scribes in the corner of the room hear him speak these words after minutes of silence, and they know that he is talking to them directly. “Why do you question these things in your heart?” (Mark 2:8) What are they questioning? What is the paralyzed man questioning? What are the Romans questioning? Does Jesus leave questions unanswered? “Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven?’ or to say, ‘Rise, take up your bed and walk’?” (Mark 2:9) That is a good question. Obviously it is easier to say “your sins are forgiven” because nobody can prove that. If Jesus says “Rise, take up your bed and walk” yet the paralytic remains on the ground, then he is a fraud and his entire ministry dissolves. Yet only God can forgive sins. This man is not God. He cannot forgive sins. He should be stoned to death for making such a claim. Not even the High Priest can forgive sins, and the power that he does possess requires great ritual. Yet this carpenter who just returned from a miniature Israel tour just called for the forgiveness of this paralyzed man. “‘But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins, rise, pick up your bed, and go home.’ And he rose and immediately picked up his bed and went out before them all.” (Mark 2:10-12) The whole room is speechless. He has more power than anyone could have imagined. He heals bodies and he forgives sins. The four friends are looking down from above the roof as their friend walks out of the house. They cannot believe what they just witnessed. Nothing could have prepared them for this miracle of the body and the heart.

John called for all people to be baptized, repent, confess their sins, and be forgiven. Yet John never forgave anyone’s sins. He simply told them what to do and then sent them on their way. John knew that he did not have the authority to forgive sins because John knew that he was not God. He was not the perfect creator of the universe against whom Adam and every single descendant daily betrays. Jesus is that God. Jesus is the creator against whom every man, woman, and child daily chooses to betray. Jesus is the one who has the authority to forgive the sins of those who faithfully seek him. The four friends of the paralyzed man knew Jesus was the only option they had to maybe, just maybe, ever see their friend walk again. He did more than strengthen the boney legs of a paralytic. He healed the broken heart as well. Jesus’ concern is much larger than the body. Jesus’ concern is the souls of creation. Jesus is the only option for healing, and when followers realize that he is the only option, he changes lives. The ways Jesus changes lives may not make sense to me, to you, or to the Roman listeners. Yet Jesus’ purposes prevail every time.

Jesus cannot more clearly display his power to the people than he just did, and so he gets up and begins walking over to the sea of Galilee which is not far away. Naturally the crowd continues following him after seeing that display of a miracle. Their hope in his power grows hour by hour, and nearly every person in town wants to catch a glimpse of the man who used to fix their tables. Suddenly everyone recognizes the hated man in the distance sitting at the same table he occupies daily. Everyone following Jesus knows about Levi, the one who sold his soul to the Romans and orders the Legion soldiers to destroy any fisherman who fails to pay taxes to Caesar. Certainly Jesus will turn away from Levi. Nobody can stand that man. Jesus grew up giving his small income to Levi, and he knows the ways Levi cheats all of the town of Capernaum of their earned wages. “Follow me.” (Mark 2:14) Stunned. Pissed. Indescribable rage just filled the followers. In the morning Jesus enraged the scribes for claiming power to forgive sins. In the afternoon Jesus enrages the rest of Capernaum for calling along the most hated Jew in town to join his ranks of listeners. And Levi gets up. Levi follows. What an awkward scene. The tax collector joining the ranks of the people who hate him most to go follow the carpenter which heals bodies and forgives sins.

Jesus noticed Levi. Levi experienced someone caring for him. Levi’s heart no longer cares about the money he embezzled from his neighbors. Levi is enthralled by this carpenter. Levi, in the midst of his excitement, invites Jesus to come spend dinner with him at his house amongst all of his friends, and so Jesus kindly accepts the warm welcome. Jesus must not know what kind of party Levi hosts because the only people who hang out at Levi’s house are the rest of the tax collectors around town and all of their prostitute friends which keep them entertained for the night of drinking and dining. 

When Jesus arrives at this gathering, he does not feel awkward and he does not sit on the side of the bar away from the craziness of the sinners. Jesus goes right into their midst and begins introducing himself. When the holy people hear about Jesus’ dinner plans, they cannot help but observe him themselves. And when they realize the rumors are true, they must have thought to themselves, “This man, this healing rabbi, this forgiving Son of Man, cannot do anything right. How can he heal and forgive when he is just like the rest of them?” They started spreading more rumors and asking the disciples of Jesus, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” (Mark 2:16) In spite of the music and the yelling and the singing, Jesus overhears the conversations about him and tells the religious elite of his great purpose on earth, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Mark 2:17) The scribes have no response to this powerful claim.

The Romans hear these stories and begin to realize the weight of John’s message of repentance and baptism. Jesus is the king of hearts, and Jesus is the healer of hearts. Yet to receive the healing that Jesus offers, people need to fall at his feet, acknowledge their brokenness, and seek healing. Not physical healing, soul healing.


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