This probably won’t happen every morning, but something I am trying as a Lenten discipline is to take a little time each morning and write a brief reflection on the gospel text from the daily lectionary cycle. Today’s reflection is based on the reading from Mark 2:1-12.
I sometimes hear it suggested, in scholarly discussions of the New Testament, that there is a clear progression in the “Christology”— theological study focused on the identity and work of Christ— of the four gospel writers. Usually, it is said that John, the latest of the writers, puts the most emphasis on Christ’s deity and that Mark, the earliest writer, puts the most emphasis on his humanity. Sometimes, this is taken even farther to suggest that Christ is not divine in the early gospel writers, that the divinity of Christ is a later amendment by the Christian community to their understanding of who Jesus was.
I take such statements to be proof that some scholars of the Bible are really bad at reading literature.
Case and point: our text this morning.
Jesus returns to Capernaum, the home of James and Peter. He sits in a house teaching and is packed in by the crowd that gathers. Then the roof caves in. Well… kind of. Four guys cut a hole in it and lower their friend down into the crowd right in front of Jesus.
Now what happens next is taken by a lot of Christians as a statement on the deep spiritual need of all humans for forgiveness. I don’t contest that we have such a need, but I don’t think that’s the point of this particular story.
Rather, it seems to me that Jesus is being intentionally provocative.
He knows what the scribes are going to think of his statement to the paralyzed man. “‘Your sins are forgiven,’ who can say that but God alone??”
To which Jesus responds, “let me prove to you that I have the authority to make such a statement.”
Now what is the significance of offering such a proof? And why do it this way?
I think this story is a rather brilliant maneuver by Jesus. Without making any explicit statements, he has just told the scribes that he is God incarnate. And he’s done it by way of a public miracle in the midst of, effectively, a private conversation happening between him and the scribes.
Mark’s presentation of this story, then, isn’t an explicit declaration that Jesus is divine. But it certainly was meant to imply as much.