Jesus forgives, then heals, a paraplegic.

by K.W. Leslie, 14 July

And in so doing, shook the worldview of the scribes in the room.

Mark 2.1-12 • Matthew 9.1-8 • Luke 5.17-26

Bible scholars call this story a controversy pericope, a fancy way of saying it’s another tale where people debate who Jesus really is. You know, like Jesus tossing out the demonized guy in synagogue. There are a bunch of these stories in the gospels.

See, in the process of explaining God to people, Jesus steps on a lot of toes. Especially among people who figure they already have God figured out—and Jesus contradicts them, so Jesus must be the one who’s wrong. Jesus still scandalizes people this way—but nowadays, the closed-minded folks have already embraced an iffy interpretation of Jesus which doesn’t offend them any, and we outrage ’em by poking holes in it. (Welcome to my world.)

In Mark and Luke this story happens after Jesus cured an infectious man; in Matthew after visiting the Dekapolis and kicking 2,000 demons out of a pagan; and various gospel comparisons like to link this up to when Jesus cured a different paraplegic at Beit Khésda (KJV “Bethesda”), Jerusalem. I’ll tell that story next. But this one starts in a house in Kfar Nahum; likely Jesus’s, though a lot of Christians speculate (for no good reason) it was Simon Peter’s.

Mark 2.1-2 KWL
1 Days after Jesus entered Kfar Nahum again, people heard he was in a house.
2 So many gathered, the house no longer had room; not even by the door.
Jesus was teaching them a lesson.
Matthew 9.1 KWL
Stepping into a boat, Jesus crossed the lake and came to his own town.
Luke 5.17 KWL
This happened one day: Jesus was teaching, and Pharisees and law-teachers were seated there.
They were coming from every village in the Galilee, Judea, and Jerusalem.
The Lord’s power to heal was in Jesus.

Yes, Jesus’s house. People figure Jesus didn’t have a house, ’cause the Son of Man “had no place to lay his head,” Lk 9.58 but that’s when he was traveling. When he was in Kfar Nahum, he had a home. Likely with family; with his uncle Zavdi, and his cousins James and John. Who, I’m sure, were initially startled to find their home overrun with Jesus’s followers—and horrified when a bunch of guys decided to bust through the roof and drop a paraplegic on ’em.

Paralytikós means one who’s paralýo/“part destroyed.” Most commonly, one’s legs won’t work; so paraplegic. But it could mean any part of him was damaged—enough so he couldn’t get around on his own. The ailment wasn’t due to age, ’cause in two gospels Jesus called him téknon/“boy.” (And no, this wasn’t because Jesus was more spiritually mature, like those priests who call everyone “my child”: In those days, with those short life expectancies, Jesus was older than many. Older than this guy, at least.) It was likely because he vevliménon/“had been thrown down” Mt 9.2 —a word most translations skim over as the way he was placed on his cot. (The KJV translates it “lying.”)

Mark 2.3-5 KWL
3 Bearers came to Jesus, with a paraplegic carried by four.
4 Unable to get him through the crowd, they uncovered the roof where Jesus was.
Digging through, they lowered the cot where the paraplegic laid.
5 Jesus, seeing their faith, told the paraplegic, “Boy, your sins are forgiven.”
Matthew 9.2 KWL
Look: They brought Jesus a paraplegic who’d been thrown down, on a couch.
Jesus, seeing their faith, told the paraplegic, “Be bold, boy. Your sins are forgiven.”
Luke 5.18-20 KWL
18 Look: Men, bearing a disabled person on a couch, sought to bring him in, to put him before Jesus.
19 Not finding a way they could get him through the crowd, going up onto the roof,
they dropped him with the stretcher through the tiles, in the middle in front of Jesus.
20 Seeing their faith, Jesus said, “Man, your sins have been forgiven.”

Since they couldn’t get through the tightly-packed crowds, the bearers—likely on the orders of the man they bore—went up onto the tile roof of the house, dug through the tiles over Jesus’s head (risking the possibility of bonking Jesus on the head with paving stones!) and lowered the man and his cot before Jesus. Luke actually has kathíkan/“they dropped” Lk 5.19 —’cause it’s unlikely they brought ropes, despite the way artists usually depict this scene. In any case, talk about not accepting no for an answer.

And it demonstrated serious faith that Jesus would do something. So it’s for that reason Jesus… forgave his sins. Wait, what?

The forgiveness of sins.

I don’t know what sins Jesus had to forgive. The gospels don’t say. I’m sure the homeowner was plenty annoyed about the sin of putting a hole in his roof. Nevertheless, this is what fires up the controversy in this story.

Frequently, people preach the paraplegic went to Jesus for healing, but instead Jesus did no such thing: He went straight for, “Boy, your sins are forgiven.” Mk 2.5 Hence they speculate the paraplegic thought, “What? My sins are forgiven? I came to get frickin’ cured. Who cares about my sins? Screw my sins.” Or some other bitter, thankless reaction. Then, based on the reaction which they themselves invented, the preachers go on a tear about how the paraplegic was only interested in getting cured, whereas Jesus is more interested in the far more important issue of forgiveness. ’Cause it’s better to enter the kingdom maimed, than get tossed onto the fire in perfect health. Mk 9.43-48

Yeah, there’s no evidence for this interpretation. But it’s popular, so it gets preached. Particularly by cessationists, folks who believe God doesn’t do miracles anymore, who are trying to discourage their listeners from seeking supernatural cures, and want ’em to seek forgiveness instead.

But knowing Jesus and his kindness, the reason he brought up forgiveness was because the paraplegic needed to hear forgiveness. His culture believed, and the Pharisees taught, that illness was how God judged sin. Jn 9.2 As far as they were concerned, this man was paraplegic because he did something to incur God’s wrath. He deserved it.

And maybe he thought he had deserved it. Picture a mom ordering her kids not to climb up the stone façade of their house. “I don’t care if the gym taught you how to climb their fake ‘rock walls.’ Our rocks aren’t bolted on, and you got no safety harness. Stay off the wall!” But they climb it anyway. And they fall off, break their legs—and thank God that’s their only consequence.

Now imagine the first century: If a similar kid decided to climb anything, and likewise fell off and broke his legs. Remember, there was no healthcare. Few knew how to set a leg properly, so he wouldn’t just break his legs: They were now useless. Never healed right; couldn’t stand on ’em without great pain; the rest of his life had to either be supported by his family, or begging.

Even today, little errors of judgment can turn into lifetimes of pain. There’s every chance the paraplegic had done something to accidentally hurt himself. So he was beating himself up over it. His injury was “an act of God”—as the Pharisees taught him.

So Jesus healed his mental pain first.

Something we Christians should remember to do. Too often, we assume the reason God won’t instantly heal our every hurt is because he’s displeased with us. Or we lack faith, or we sinned, or some other dysfunctional explanation which doesn’t reflect God’s character at all. God loves his kids. Through Jesus, he forgives all our sins. Sin has nothing to do with why he sometimes won’t cure people. But our culture still teaches us otherwise, and we need to learn better.

Wait, isn’t that God’s job?

Mark 2.6-7 KWL
6 But certain scribes were sitting there, debating this in their minds.
7 “Why’s this man speaking this way?” “Slander!”
“Who can forgive sins other than the One God?”
Matthew 9.3 KWL
Look: Some of the scribes there told themselves, “This man slanders God.”
Luke 5.21 KWL
The scribes and Pharisees began to debate, saying,
“Who’s this man who speaks slander against God?”
“Who can forgive sins other than God alone?”

Scribes (Hebrew sofrím) were Pharisee bible scholars: Rabbis who’d studied the Law in the Jerusalem academies, who had all 613 commands memorized, who knew the “proper” ways for Pharisees to interpret them. And who occasionally butted heads with Jesus because he challenged Pharisee interpretations. They were looking for loopholes or legalism. But since Jesus is God, he knew precisely what he meant when he originally handed down the Law.

Correctly, the scribes realized how inappropriate it was for Jesus to forgive the paraplegic.

Yes, I said correctly. The scribes didn’t know Jesus is God. The Law said God isn’t a man. Nu 23.19 We know now he is; Jn 1.14 they didn’t. And here was this man, offering to forgive sins like only God can do.

We also miss the fact the scribes were correct, because Jesus has since granted us the power to forgive sins like God does. Jn 20.23 If someone confesses their sins, and asks us whether God forgives them, we can easily respond, “He already did. He proved it by Jesus dying for you.” But again, this is stuff we were taught after these events took place. The scribes didn’t know God had issued his followers a license to forgive on his behalf.

Believe it or not, some Christians still don’t know this. They figure we can’t forgive anyone unless they’ve sinned against us personally. If someone robs, cheats, injures, or murders me, I can forgive ’em; but if they rob, cheat, injure, or murders someone else, I actually have no right to declare God’s forgiveness, and have to make sure society punishes the perpetrators. I suspect most of the reason Christians believe this, is because a lot of us are vengeful instead of forgiving.

Anyway: The scribes were only going from the partial revelation they had. They weren’t wrong. But where they went wrong—where we see Jesus rebuke ’em next—was because of their bad attitudes. They pessimistically leapt to the conclusion Jesus was doing evil. Even vlasfimeí/“slandering [God],” because he presumed to speak for God—and they weren’t entirely sure he did speak for God.

We bible scholars are trained to be skeptics—to regularly ask, “Do the scriptures actually teach that?” instead of swallowing everything we’re told. But we have to be very careful lest our skepticism turn to cynicism, lest we nitpick everything—and as a result miss something God’s doing. Ever notice how few theologians you’re gonna find at the center of a revival? They’re usually on the sidelines, explaining why it’s God; or outside, condemning it because it doesn’t neatly fit their worldview. For every Martin Luther there are a thousand Hank Hanegraaffs.

So if you aspire to be a bible scholar, be careful of pride; of thinking you know God so well. Never put the infinite God in a box, then fight him when he kicks your box open. The God these scribes worshiped was standing in front of them—teaching them personally!—but the instant he started acting like God, they were too small-minded to identify him. It’s a scary thing when our great learning leads us so far astray. Yet it’s an easy trap for scholars. So as you learn more about Jesus, stay humble.

Jesus’s response to the scribes was to use a basic Jewish logical argument, “What’s easiest?” In essence, if one was able to do the hard or impossible thing, one should also be able to do the easy thing. So if God empowered the Son of Man to cure paraplegics, he should have empowered the Son of Man to forgive sins. Nu?

Mark 2.8-9 KWL
8 Next Jesus, knowing in his spirit this was what they debated to themselves,
told them, “Why do you debate these things in your minds?
9 What’s easiest?—to tell the paraplegic, ‘Your sins are forgiven’?
Or say, ‘Get up, pick up your cot, and walk’?”
Matthew 9.4-5 KWL
4 Jesus, knowing what they were considering,
told them, “How can you consider evil in your minds?
5 For what’s easiest?—to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven’?
Or say, ‘Get up and walk’?”
Luke 5.22-23 KWL
22 Jesus, knowing their debate, in reply
told them, “Why do you debate this in your minds?
23 What’s easiest?—to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven you’?
Or say, ‘Get up and walk’?”

The Son of Man.

In Jesus’s response, this is the first time in Mark and Luke (second time in Matthew) Jesus calls himself “the Son of Man.”

The term, bar enósh, comes from a Daniel passage which everyone in the room would’ve known—especially since it’s one of the few bits of the Old Testament written in their language, Aramaic. Plus it’s an End Times revelation, so it’s something they were expecting to come soon.

Daniel 7.13-14 KWL
13 I dreamt a prophetic vision that night: Look, someone like a Son of Man!
Coming in the heavens’ clouds, approaching the Ancient of Days, coming near to him.
14 The Ancient gave the Son authority, honor, and the kingdom,
and every people, nation, and language, who’ll bow to his authority.
His authority is permanent: It never passes away.
His kingdom can never be destroyed.

Calling himself this, was a way of saying Jesus was this End Times figure—and the Messiah. But, y’know, not saying it, lest politically-minded people get him in trouble with the Herods and the Romans.

To prove he was this Son of Man, Jesus healed the paraplegic.

Mark 2.10-12 KWL
10 “So you can know the Son of Man has license to forgive sins on earth,”
Jesus told the paraplegic, 11 “Get up, I tell you. Pick up your cot and go to your house.”
12 And he got up. Next, he picked up his cot. He came out in front of everyone.
So everyone was astounded and glorified God, saying this: “We’ve never seen this before!”
Matthew 9.6-8 KWL
6 “So you can know the Son of Man, on earth, has license to forgive sins,”
Jesus then told the paraplegic, “Pick up your bed and get up. Go to your house.”
7 Getting up, he went to his house. 8 Seeing this, the crowds were afraid,
and glorified God for granting such license to people.
Luke 5.24-26 KWL
24 “So you can know the Son of Man has license on earth to forgive sins,”
Jesus told the disabled man, “Get up, I tell you, and pick up your stretcher. Go to your house.”
25 Immediately getting up in front of Jesus, picking up what he laid on,
he went to his house, glorifying God.
26 Astoundment overtook everyone, and they glorified God.
They were filled with fear, saying this: “We saw a paradox today.”

And there was much rejoicing.

To describe the people’s reaction, Mark and Luke used the verb exístimi, which literally means “to stand outside oneself.” It evolved into our word ecstatic, but that’s not an accurate translation. These folks were out of their minds with shock, joy, or any other emotion which pulls people out of reality.

The ancient Greeks used exístimi to describe people whose entire universe had just been upended. Sometimes by new, mystical knowledge from pagan prophets. Sometimes by getting blitzed on drugs, alcohol, fumes, and freaky hallucinations which they interpreted as revelation. But this was no hallucination: Jesus had just claimed to be a heavenly character from the bible, cured a guy who absolutely couldn’t walk, and forgave sins. This undid everything the people thought they knew.

Remember, it was only just recently Jesus healed the entire town. They saw him heal before. Their response, “We’ve never seen this before!” Mk 2.12 makes no sense if they were solely reacting to another faith-healing. ’Cause it wasn’t just that. What they’d never seen before was the Messiah, come to prepare his kingdom.

Probably the more obvious description comes from the response in Luke: “We saw a paradox today.” Lk 5.26 Most translations skim past parádoxa/“paradox” by rendering it “strange things” (KJV) or “amazing things” (NLT), but like I said: Their whole world was undone. Jesus blew their minds. They thought men couldn’t forgive sins; Jesus totally proved he could. God had granted this ability to humans. Mt 9.8 That was new.

But let’s not snipe at the scribes too much. You realize Jesus had just revealed to them three things they hadn’t wholly realized: The Son of Man is a human being; the Son of Man is Messiah; and the Son of Man is him. And when the gospels say everyone was astounded, they don’t say “everyone but the scribes.” The scribes changed their tune.

Because everyone can change. Even know-it-alls.