The account of the healing of the lame man in Mark 2:1–12 includes a somewhat abrupt moment in which Jesus’ declares that the man’s sins are indeed forgiven before He heals the man’s physical condition. It is obvious to everyone there that the man did not come to Jesus for absolution but rather for healing of his lifelong paralysis. Jesus, however, addresses first the problem of his sin by proclaiming, “Your sins are forgiven.” His health condition is of secondary import.
Christ’s forgiveness is broad and general. It is not like the paralytic offended Jesus earlier in the day and now Jesus is forgiving him. Christ offers him something so much better by pronouncing upon him wholesale forgiveness for his sins.
Unexpressed Rebuke, Unspoken Faith
In the scene, the scribes get the magnitude of His declaration, but they are savvy enough not to rebuke Him publicly. Their rebuttal is silent (2:6–7). In Mark’s telling of the story, at least, Jesus is addressing an unexpressed rebuke when He says out loud, “Why do you question these things in your hearts?” The scribes have not verbalized their complaint, but He knows their subtle, unspoken inclination to rebuke His divine authority.
And this is true of the paralytic as well. He is silent. The most passive, quiet, inactive man in the room is the paralytic. Everyone else is doing something in the account. The friends lower him down on the stretcher. The scribes titter in their hushed critique. The whole scene closes on the crowd audibly glorifying God. And during all of this activity is the paralytic—unmoving, unspeaking, impotent. He is a completely passive character, apart from the fact that at the end, he stands up and leaves the room.
How much more incredible is it that Jesus perceives the man’s heart and calls him “son” (2:5). In telling it this way, Mark is highlighting a truth about Jesus’ role in salvation, which is that He is the agent of salvation. He is the lone actor. Jesus alone rightly, reliably perceives faith in a human heart. He alone whispers the sweet sentence, “Son, your sins are all forgiven.”
We are not told much about this man’s life story, but we can imagine that he probably thought of his paralysis as his greatest curse. It was his worst suffering, his most obvious lack, and his most felt need. But in this moment, Jesus engaged his most felt need in order to satisfy his deepest need.
It was his paralysis that made it possible for him to come before Jesus in the only way that is appropriate. And this is how it works for those in the Christian life, isn’t it? Repentance and faith mean presenting oneself before Jesus helpless, without excuse, without an alibi. No “Yes, buts”—just a sinner dressed in failures, wounds, guilt, and worst moments.
That is where the Messiah meets you.
There is a reason why the stories that Christians tell about their first meaningful encounters with Jesus so often include some sort of difficult moment in their lives, some moment when they felt helpless, afraid, lost, or abandoned.