Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Mk 1:35-2:5

At the beginning of Mark, regarding the activities of Jesus, so many things have to do with the Holy Spirit, and often in conflict with the powers of evil (1:8, 10, 12, 13).   We would have thought the gathering of disciples in 1:16ff would send the ministry off in a different direction, but no: the next story is not about disciples, but about an "unclean spirit" (1:23), and it coming out of a person.  The crowd was amazed at the teaching (1:22), calling it "a new teaching with authority" precisely because of Jesus commanding the unclean spirits to obey Him (1:27).

This is not inconsistent with what Jesus says in calling the first disciples.  To become "fishers of men," what better thing than to witness the Lord's work in fishing men out of the most severe of things: illnesses, and being possessed by unclean spirits?  Both of these aspects of the human condition are characterized by the helplessness of the human being.

And yet Christ's work is also addressed to the normal Galilean, to whom Christ preached the gospel of God (1:14), preached in the synagogue on Saturday, with great authority, "and not as the scribes" (1:22).  The summary in 1:39 is "preaching and casting out the demons," to such an extent that Jesus "could no longer publicly enter a city" (1:45).    

In the next section, 2:1-5, it is often ignored, what Jesus actually said, in itself, to the paralytic, after seeing the faith (2:5) of those who let down his palette after removing the roof where Jesus was "speaking the word" to a group packed inside: "Child, your sins are forgiven."

This is a pronouncement.  An act.  Not a perception or discovery by Jesus, but an act that forgives the man's sins.  We know this because of the explanation Jesus gives of it: "the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins" (2:11).

It is important not to water this story down to the demonstration that Jesus "could" forgive sins, but to remember that He did, and why.  "Jesus, seeing their faith said to the paralytic, 'Child, your sins are forgiven.'"

Do we have an "opening" in our thinking for this?  What does the faith of those who had dug an opening in the roof have to do with this man's sins? his sins, their faith, Christ forgiving his sins in a moment in time. 

Christ saw their faith.  Is this metonymy for Christ seeing the effects of their faith?  It may not matter, since subsequently Mark shows that Jesus was also "aware in His spirit" what some of the scribes were "reasoning in their hearts about" (2:8).  In any case, Christ saw "their" faith.  Can another's faith be a reason that Christ forgives someone else's sin?  It must be so.  Here is a story from the earliest days of Christ's ministry, that has yet to be well integrated into so much theology!  Why?  Because of our presupposition that "my" forgiveness must be because of what is true of "me."  Not so.  For two reasons in this story, that the Son of Man has authority to forgive sins just as He did here, and that the faith of others can be a reason that Christ forgives someone else's sin.

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