Carry or be Carried

Mark 2:1-12

When He had come back to Capernaum several days afterward, it was heard that He was at home, and many were gathered together so that there was no longer room, not even near the door; and He was speaking the word to them.  Mark 2:1,2

In Capernaum is the remains Peter’s mother-in-law’s house. The courtyard of a home is where family life was centered, and there was only one door that opened to the street and maybe a couple of windows in the outer walls.  There are so many people at this location that there isn’t even room at the door!

Here is sketch of the layout of the house:

Imagine the waves from the Sea of Galilee nearby lapping quietly on the shore, and the voice of Jesus coming through the window of the main room of the house as he is speaking the word to the people that have gathered.  “The kingdom of God is at hand”, he says in a spirited voice.  “Don’t be worried—seek first the kingdom of God.”  Everyone is intently listening and straining to hear.

And they came, bringing to Him a paralytic, carried by four men. Being unable to get to Him because of the crowd, they removed the roof above Him; and when they had dug an opening, they let down the pallet on which the paralytic was lying.  Mark 2:3-4

This group can’t get in to the courtyard without shoving people out of the way.  They decide to make a drastic move. That meant carrying the man over a shoulder, or using some kind of cloth to transport him to the roof, after using some kind of ladder.  The roof was often made of a thick layer of clay (packed with a stone roller), supported by mats of branches across wooden beams.[1]  They were sturdy and flat, and used for storage and sometimes for sleeping.[2]

Imagine being in the room where Jesus is teaching, hearing men walking on the roof, and then having clumps of mud and sticks falling on your head!  Everyone would probably stop to watch!  A grown man, paralyzed and lying down is going to need a big hole to get through.  How did they let the man down on his mat?  If you were the paralyzed man, it might feel very precarious! You might be worried about getting cut on the roof materials, or being dropped. Or, maybe you’re just thinking about being healed.  But when your friends get you through the roof,

And Jesus seeing their faith said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”  Mark 2:5

‘Um, I don’t think that’s what this guy had in mind, Jesus.  I think his friends brought him here so that you could heal him.’ 

By announcing forgiveness of sins, Jesus has crossed a line.  Forgiveness of sins was available for ANY repentant Jew through the sacrificial system as stipulated by Torah.[3]  This man couldn’t go to the temple because he was paralyzed, and getting up to Jerusalem was an impossible task, and even with help, it was a dangerous and difficult climb.  There was a Talmudic saying that said, ‘No one gets up from his sick-bed until all his sins are forgiven,[4] so there may be an implication that his sin is keeping him paralyzed.

Pronouncing forgiveness of sin was supposed to be a priestly task.[5] They are not in the temple, and Jesus is not a priest.[6]  According to Jewish theology even the Messiah could not forgive sins.  But if you remember, in Mark 1, John the Baptist called people into the desert to be baptized, rather than going to the Temple.  Now, in Capernaum, the Temple activity is happening in Jesus.  He is asserting that he can do what only God could do.

But some of the scribes were sitting there and reasoning in their hearts, “Why does this man speak that way? He is blaspheming; who can forgive sins but God alone?” Mark 2:6-7

Notice that the scribes are simply thinking these things.  But that’s all they’ve been doing—thinking.  And sitting.  Action is taking place all around them, as four men work to get their friend through the roof.  That’s not something you see every day!  The scribes are not noted as standing, making room, or helping to bring the man in to get to Jesus.  They are sitting and analyzing…and what’s going on in their hearts is dangerous.  Jesus isn’t going to let this go. Maybe he sees their big eyes as they are looking at him, maybe with mouths hanging open, maybe their expressions moving from shock to outrage and then to disdain. 

Immediately Jesus, aware in His spirit that they were reasoning that way within themselves, said to them, “Why are you reasoning about these things in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven’; or to say, ‘Get up, and pick up your pallet and walk’?  Mark 2:8-9

Well, there’s an interesting question. It’s easy to SAY something, but the physical healing is harder to disprove.  If Jesus can heal the man, then his pronouncement of sins will HAVE to be valid,[7] and prove that he is God.

But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—He said to the paralytic, “I say to you, get up, pick up your pallet and go home.” And he got up and immediately picked up the pallet and went out in the sight of everyone, so that they were all amazed and were glorifying God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this.”  Mark 2:10-12

Voila! Jesus has just proven that he has the power to forgive sins.  The man immediately gets up, picks up his pallet, and walks out.  This is a resurrection, my friends! The paralyzed man was powerless to help himself.  He was carried by others and lowered through the roof as if into a grave.  Jesus says, “Get up!  Rise up! Be raised from the dead!” Jesus gave him back not only his legs, but also his life!  He has forgiven his sins, AND restored him to community life.

There are times in life it’s difficult to approach Jesus.  When our sin is heavy.  When our depression makes it impossible.  When we don’t have the strength to do anything on our own willpower.   The paralytic man had friends—friends who had faith.  Jesus sees THEIR faith and what they were willing to do for their friend, and he healed the man. 

It’s proof that we need community.  In reflecting on this passage I see three things: 

1) Don’t be like the scribes, who just sat and thought negatively about the situation.  If you see someone in need, do something!  And don’t be cynical about the work of Jesus in their life. 

2) If you know someone who needs encouragement, maybe you need to pick up their mat and bring them to Jesus, because they might not be able to do it on their own.

3) If you are going through a difficult situation and you need someone to carry your faith, the church can be the place to pick up your mat and bring you to Jesus so that you can be healed—and forgiven.  Be willing to be carried.


[1] NIV Archaeological Study Bible, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005, p1624

[2] Mark L. Strauss, Mark, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2014, Mark 2:3-4.

[3] Mary Ann Beavis, Mark, Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2011 , 59.

[4] Morna Hooker, A Commentary on the Gospel According to St. Mark, Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1991, 85. 

[5] Edwin K. Broadhead, Mark, Sheffield Phoenix Press, 2009, 22. 

[6] C. Clifton Black, Mark, Nashville: Abingdon, 2011 , 87. 

[7] M. Eugene Boring, Mark: A Commentary; Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2006, 77. 

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