Jesus Heals and Teaches
- Main text: Mark 2:1-22
- Accompanying text: Psalm 103:6-14
What this passage means to us
“God’s pursuit of his people is not based on merit. It is based on our need and is grace-driven. Jesus’ entire mission proceeds on this foundation. It assumes that human beings are not capable of restoring their broken relationship with God, including the destructive personal and communal consequences of sinfully striving to live independently of God” . In this passage we see Jesus declare not only that he has the power to forgive sins, but that the forgiveness of sinners is a fundamental part of his mission.
In the encounter with the paralysed man, it is this first issue that causes opposition from the Scribes. Who is ‘this fellow’ that he can offer forgiveness of sins? This accusation has two parts. The first is that they think Jesus is blaspheming as by offering forgiveness for sins he is speaking on behalf of God (who alone has authority to forgive sins). Perhaps more importantly though, their accusations suggests a disbelief that the forgiveness that Jesus offers is real, they view his claim as peddling a false hope. It is this that Jesus addresses in his reply to them. “The healing of the paralytic is, however, not just a display of authority but also an illustration of the forgiveness with which it is linked. The man imprisoned by his paralysis, confined to his bed, is a fitting picture of the bondage of sins; and his release from the paralysis is a vivid picture of release from sins and guilt” .
In Jesus’ response to the scribes we also see Jesus refer to himself as the “Son of Man”. Throughout the gospel accounts, this is often the phrase that Jesus uses when referring to himself. This phrase is used a number of times in the Old Testament with a meaning similar to say “this man”, e.g. Psalm 8:4 or Ezekiel 2:1 and this may be the sense in which Jesus is using it. In the book of Daniel, however, this phrase takes on a messianic meaning as Daniel describes “one like a son of man” who “was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all nations and peoples of every language worshipped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed” (Daniel 7:13-14). The phrase “Son of Man” is also developed in other Jewish writings of the time which are thought to be inspired by the book of Daniel (e.g. 1 Enoch, 2 Baruch and 4 Ezra). In these writings the Son of Man is a messianic figure involved in the final judgement: “the sum of judgment was given unto the Son of Man, and he caused the sinners to pass away and be destroyed from off the face of the earth” (1 Enoch 69:27).
It is the purpose of Jesus’ mission that comes under scrutiny in the next section of the passage when Jesus calls a tax collector to be his disciple and eats with sinners. Contrary to texts like the one in 1 Enoch above, Jesus reveals that his messianic mission is more about forgiveness and restoration than about punishment and retribution. Jesus, in calling a tax collector to be his disciple, breaks with the taboos of the time. Likewise, sharing a meal with someone was considered to be a sign of your favour towards that person. Tax collectors were viewed as being greedy and dishonest as well as being collaborators with the Romans occupiers. By breaking bread with sinners and tax collectors Jesus is making a statement about the Kingdom of God that he is proclaiming. It is a Kingdom that welcomes sinners and those excluded from normal society. Jesus’ comments in verse 17 clarify this further; entry to the Kingdom of God comes about through forgiveness and healing in Christ – not through our own efforts and achievements (our own righteousness). He is the doctor who restores us into a right relationship with God and secures our life in the Kingdom of God.
In the concluding part of our passage, Jesus is confronted once again, this time over why his disciples are not fasting like the Pharisees. “The puzzlement of those who questioned Jesus on this issue was caused by the fact that Jesus proclaimed the near arrival of the kingdom of God, the day of salvation, but was not showing what his critics regarded as proper preparation by mourning over its delay. Jesus’ response (2:19–22) indicates that he shared neither their view that the kingdom of God would not come until Israel was ready for it nor their understanding of the present as a time for mourning in the absence of the kingdom. His image of a wedding, complete with guests and a bridegroom, a joyous, exuberant occasion in ancient Israel, to describe the moment means that he saw the kingdom of God already approaching and that the time was ripe for joy and celebration. But if the kingdom of God is approaching a sinful, unworthy Israel, it means that the kingdom of God is based on God’s gracious design to save even the unworthy” . One of the threads that unites all these confrontations with Jesus is that he was not conforming to expectation. Jesus addresses this directly with his well known mini-parable on new wine in old wineskins. This parable is as relevant to us today as it was to his original hearers. The Scribes and Pharisees who confronted Jesus wanted his teaching to conform to their beliefs and expectation, but Jesus is resolute that the new life he is teaching will not fit in our pre-existing beliefs. Jesus challenges us to shape our lives to him and his teachings, not to expect him to fit into our culture and our expectations of what a Christian should be like.
Storyline and Context
While at the end of the last chapter we saw that Jesus faced opposition in his ministry from the forces of evil. In Mark chapter 2 we see that Jesus’ ministry also faced opposition from human sources. Both the Scribes (teachers of the laws) and the Pharisees (a prominent Jewish sect with a strong focus on keeping the Mosaic law and ritual purity) challenge Jesus and his teachings and when they are unhappy with the results of these confrontations they begin to plot to kill him (see 3:6).
All of the encounters we see so far in Mark reveal more to us about ‘who’ Jesus is and what the Kingdom is like that he has come to proclaim. In this passage Jesus is identified as the Son of Man who can forgive our sins, the sin doctor who has come to heal the sick and the bridegroom who has invited us into his celebrations. We also see in Jesus’ encounter with the paralysed man that he is moved by our faith and desires to release us from our physical and spiritual imprisonment. When he eats with tax collectors and sinners we see that Jesus does not cross the road when he sees those who need him, but instead he come to us and brings healing – calling us into a new life of discipleship. When questioned about fasting, we learn that Jesus is not calling us to mourn our past, but to join in with him in the celebration of his wedding – his joyous union with humanity.
- Matthew 9:1-17
- Luke 5:17-39
Other GCI resources
Footnotes and References
- Gospel Transformation Study Bible, (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2019). Digital edition.
- Larry Hurtado, Understanding the Bible Commentary: Mark, (Ada, MI: Baker Books, 1989). Digital edition.