The paralytic of Capernaum (Mk 2:1-12) 

Josep Boira-February 12, 2022-Reading time: 3 minutes
paralytic Capernaum

The Church teaches us that "the plan of divine revelation is realized in deeds and words intrinsically connected with each other". (Dei Verbum, n. 2). We see this fulfilled in the Gospel where we meet Jesus who "began to make and teach" (Acts 1:1). His public life is intermingled with "words and deeds, signs and wonders."thus bringing divine promises to fulfillment "to deliver us from the darkness of sin and death and to raise us to eternal life." (Dei Verbum, n. 4). The Gospels bear witness to this perfect harmony of Jesus' deeds and sayings: "He went through all Galilee preaching in their synagogues and casting out demons." (Mk 1:39), so that Jesus, with his word, at the same time that he teaches, saves. 

In the synagogues

Jesus, as a good Israelite, went to the synagogue on the Sabbath, in the cities and villages he visited, and took the initiative to teach the meaning of the Scriptures in a new way, creating a strong impression on the listeners. This is what happened when he entered Capernaum: "As soon as the Sabbath came, he went into the synagogue and began to teach. And they were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes." (Mk 1:21-22). Moreover, on that same occasion, he cast a demon out of a man who was in the synagogue. When he saw him, "they were all stupefied, so that they asked each other: -What is this? A new teaching with power. He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him." (Mk 1:27). This first preaching and the first miracles of Jesus made his fame spread to the rest of the world. "soon everywhere" (Mk 1:28), so that they followed him "great multitudes from Galilee, Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea, and beyond the Jordan." (Mt 4:25).

Home and away

Such was the fame of Jesus, "that he could no longer enter openly into any city, but remained outside, in solitary places. But they came to him from everywhere." (Mk 1:45). We see Jesus obliged to carry out his public ministry outside the urban centers of Galilee, turning the unpopulated land into a busy place. But he had to return; the evangelist tells us that Jesus, "after a few days" (Mk 2:1) returned to Capernaum. We can think that he arrived by stealth, after entering by a secondary entrance to the city, so as not to be seen by the people. But Jesus is very well known in Capernaum: he is "your city" (Mt 9:1), since, returning to Galilee from Judea, he had left Nazareth (cf. Mt 4:13); and there he has a house, most probably Peter's (cf. Mk 1:29). On another occasion, at the door of the house there was crowded together "the whole city": There they brought the sick and demon-possessed to him and he cured them (cf. Mk 1:32-34). As was to be expected, "it became known that he was at home and so many people gathered that there was no longer room even at the door". (Mk 2:2). Once again, the house of Capernaum was the meeting place of a crowd that was not satisfied with the weekly preaching in the synagogue, but was hungry for the word of God. The words that the Lord addressed to Moses were fulfilled: "Man does not live by bread alone, but by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of the Lord." (Dt 8:3). And Peter's house became an improvised synagogue, for in the presence of the crowd Jesus "preached the word to them" (Mk 2:2). 

Your sins are forgiven

Already when he was in the synagogue Jesus had healed a demoniac; on this other occasion, "at home" (Mk 2:1), during the preaching, "they came bringing him a paralytic, carried by four".. Because of the huge crowd it was impossible to get him close to Jesus, so, making a hole in the ceiling, they lowered him on his stretcher so that he was facing Jesus. This time it was he who was admired: "When he saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, "Son, your sins are forgiven you." (Mk 2:5). Everyone would expect another healing prodigy; however, these words were new. Undoubtedly, some would think that the cause of that sickness was the man's sins, according to the widespread mentality of the time. Others, the simpler ones, would be convinced of the divine power of Jesus, also to forgive sins. But the scribes present there "They thought in their hearts, 'Why does this man speak like this? He blasphemes. Who can forgive sins but God alone?'" (Mk 2:7). In the latter, they were right, but they did not have faith. 

It is significant that this phrase is accurately reported in the three gospels that narrate the miracle (Matthew, Mark and Luke): "Your sins are forgiven you.". In the rest of the narrative there are slight variations, as is usual in the parallel passages of the synoptic Gospels. It is an expression in passive voice whose agent subject is God, but it is not quoted, out of respect for the divine name: it is called in biblical exegesis "divine passive". 

After forgiving sins, Jesus heals the paralytic, thus confirming his divinity. Therefore, the Master of Nazareth is Jesus, "God who saves" with his word. At the end, seeing the paralytic completely healed, "they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, 'We have never seen anything like it.'" (Mk 2:12).

The authorJosep Boira

Professor of Sacred Scripture

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