The first chapter of St. Mark’s highlights the beginning of Jesus’ ministry among the people of Galilee and their reaction to his authority. Chapter two introduces the opposition.
As Jesus tells a paralytic that his sins are forgiven, the scribes react negatively to his proclamation. However, they do not voice their opposition but simply “think” it. The children of Israel generally espoused a theology of reciprocity. In other words if you act righteously, God will reward you. If you are a sinner, God will punish you. Consequently, the sick and disabled people were regarded as public sinners.
In the minds of the scribes, only God could forgive sins. However, they also believed that only God could read the thoughts of men and women. So St. Mark rather cleverly demonstrates that Jesus has the power to forgive sins by virtue of the fact that he has “heard” their thoughts. If he can hear the thoughts of men and women, he is also able to forgive sins since both of these “powers” were reserved to God.
Of course, Jesus will also go on to refute the theology of reciprocity through his own passion and death. If he, the Just One, suffers at the hands of the Roman and Jewish authority, then the theology of reciprocity must be set aside.
The logic of St. Mark’s recounting of this incident is important because it helps us to answer the question which is posed in chapter one; namely, where does Jesus get this authority to expel demons, to cure illness, and to forgive sins. St. Mark uses the stories to establish Jesus’ identity as well as his mission.
Those of us who live with chronic illness and disability can take great solace in Jesus’ mission to those who suffer. Just as he suffered and died for our sins, we are now able to unite our sufferings and frustrations with his in the continuing work of redemption.
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator