For some reason I had never previously taken note of the first sentence of this chapter–“…it was reported that he was at home.”–but this time through I am really struck by it. You don’t picture Jesus “at home.” Or at least I don’t. If he isn’t in public, he’s alone at prayer. You don’t think of him sitting around the house and doing the first century equivalent of reading the paper, having a cup of coffee, catching up on the mail, mowing the lawn. It is easier to picture him in a banquet hall with a cup of wine in his fist than it is to imagine him in a hammock or whatever it was he would have dropped into if he wanted to relax. What are the implications of a Jesus at rest, a domestic God?
Mark doesn’t tell us because no sooner do we learn that Jesus is at home than he’s got visitors. Tons of them, including one who comes in via a hole in the roof. The theme of this chapter is: giving offense. Jesus angers the religious establishment both by healing the parlytic and forgiving his sins. He angers them again by eating with the likes of Levi. Again by failing to insist that his disciples fast, and again by violating a strict interpretation of the Sabbath.
He does this, I think, as a way of establishing his authority over and against that of his critics. In doing so, it seems to me, he relies on a trump card: his success as a healer. His healings simultaneously win him an audience and establish his credibility. That is why I am persuaded that the healings stand up to even the harshest critical scrutinty. (That and the fact that Father John Meier, author of the monumental trilogy A Marginal Jew belives it too, and I tend to follow his lead in an ovine fashion.)
But a question arises explicitly in this chapter that was also hinted at in Chapter 1. What is the relationship between physical and spiritual healing in Jesus ministry? As I’ve got a bedtime story to read to my younger son, I am not gong to lay out what little I know about the first century understanding that illness was a punishment for sins. So I can’t offer an entirely satsifying answer. But Jesus explicitly says that he is healing the paralytic man who was lowered through this roof “so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority to forgive sins.” It is almost as though this great physical act of mercy wasn’t quite worth performing simply so that the fellow could get up and walk.
I don’t feel I’ve explored this issue with any real depth, but as I say, there is a bedtime story to be read. So I’d be delighted if one of you would deepen the discussion.