Tiles, roofs and brickbats – Friday, 1st week in ordinary time- Mark 2: 1-12

Tiles, roofs and brickbats – Friday, 1st week in ordinary time- Mark 2: 1-12

Jesus has completed what would seem like a quick pastoral visit to the towns of Galilee and ‘after some days’ (2:1) has returned to Capernaum and is at ‘home’. Brace yourself, because this little detail has often skipped you. He will now work a miracle in His very home under His very roof and yet it is the roof that becomes the great prop in this this miracle. This home was not owned by Jesus, in all probability was the home of Peter (1:29, 33) but Jesus has made this His home in Capernaum.

The miracle in 2: 1-12 is part of what is called the five conflict stories (2: 1- 3:6) spanning thirty four verses. The five conflict stories will introduce the various opponents of Jesus who were also the opponents of the early Christians. These opponents move from admiration (2:12) to active hostility (3:6). First they have question in their hearts (Mark 2:6); then they question His disciples (Mark 2:16); and finally, they confront Jesus himself (Mark 2:24). By the end they are so incensed that they immediately begin to plan to “destroy him” (Mark 3:6). In the first of these five conflict stories, we encounter the scribes who are the opponents of Jesus.

Jesus chooses His own home to break the word (diaphemizein ton logon). He is teaching the scriptures to a crowd that has flocked to not merely see the miracles but now have settled down to the words behind the miracles. Scripture now tells us that some people (unspecified number) come to Him and of these ‘some’ it mentions four who carry a paralyzed man.

What they end up doing next would cause any home owner’s anger to ‘hit the roof’; in this case, this was Jesus’ home and they literally took off His roof. Palestinian homes had a staircase that was built outside the home (Mark 13:15). The roof itself was made of wooden beams covered with thatching and mud making it rather easy to remove such a roof.

While the protagonist of every Gospel narration is Jesus, due credit must be given to the four unnamed men (side bar: social norms of that time being what they were, it would indicate that these were men though I also imagine they were women) and the ‘some’ who brought him to Jesus.

We would never know if the paralyzed man desired to be healed, much less if he believed in God. Yet it is the ‘some’ and in particular the four who had tremendous faith. Intercessory prayer (prayer of the faithful) in our Eucharistic services finds its scriptural backing from the actions of the ‘some’ and the four. Jesus responds to the determined faith of this man’s relatives and friends. He does not begin with physical healing, but first pronounces the man’s sins forgiven.

It is the words of Jesus, not his actions that cause the first conflict. By uttering the words, “Son, your sins are forgiven” He upsets the apple cart of belief for the Jews who based their spiritual learning on the Torah (the first five books of the Bible) which held that only God could forgive sins. Besides it was a Jewish belief that illness was a consequence of sin, a belief rejected by Jesus (Luke 13: 1-5, John 9:23)

It is the scribes, who take umbrage to His words, yet they have no courage to clarify what they hear Him say; they rather ‘question in their hearts’ calling him a ‘blasphemer’. The scribes are apparently troubled that Jesus declares the man forgiven, without him going through the ‘proper’ channels, i.e., visiting the priests and offering appropriate sacrifices. Jesus simply declares the man forgiven, implicitly speaking as God. To the early Christians who read Mark’s Gospel, this very line was their claim to their belief of Jesus’ divine authority; for Jesus was God and hence had the authority to forgive sins, an authority He then passes on to the Church ( John 20:23)

Jesus reads the thoughts that well up in the hearts of the scribes. The fact that He confronts what they have been harbouring privately in their hearts should have been proof enough that Jesus was Lord, for he could read their innermost thoughts. But when the heart is hardened the head gets polluted. It is from the heart that evil emerges (Mark 7:21)

Surely it is easier to mouth words of healing rather than perform a physical healing, for there is no empirical test to mouthing words. When Jesus does perform the physical healing He proves that He has the power also to forgive sins, proclaiming now His divine authority. Yet there is no ‘holding hands’ as part of the miracle, as He has done in the case of the possessed man or Peter’s mother in law. It is by words alone that He heals a fact that confirms the authority of His words about forgiveness of sins.

Fr Warner D’Souza

References from the JBC

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