1. Mark 2:4–5 (ESV)
  2. Exposition

Why does Jesus forgive the sins of the paralytic man when he notices the faith of the men who lowered him through the roof?

Mark 2:4–5 (ESV)

4 And when they could not get near him because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him, and when they had made an opening, they let down the bed on which the paralytic lay.

Based on a speech by Cicero1, it seems that entering through the roof was a well-known, but unauthorized way to enter a dwelling surreptitiously. But these bearers used this method openly. They are not ashamed of their desire to come near to Jesus, even by means of what we might call breaking and entering.

While the people see the audacity of the bearers, Jesus sees their faith (Mark 2:5). He saw it from the “fruits of their faith” (Calvin)2.

According to Calvin the paralytic is included when Mark speaks about “their faith.” In contrast, Calvin's opponent, Maldonatus3, posits forcefully that only the faith of the bearers is being mentioned. The background to this dispute is the doctrinal question whether God can give a person something because of the faith of another. Is faith meritorious for third parties?

But this formulation of the issue is too profound for the text. For the faith of which Mark 2:5 speaks is directed to the healing of the paralytic; the bearers are confident that Jesus has power and is also willing to help this man. Therefore this faith expects something for an invalid; it relates to him. Thus it is remarkable that this faith is not answered directly in verse 5, although Jesus reacts to it. Only in Mark 2:10–11 does Jesus heal the man, and he does that not so much because of the faith of the four bearers, but rather because of the unbelief of the scribes, who questioned Jesus’ declaration of forgiveness!

And this forgiveness, that is given in Mark 2:5, is not bestowed because of the faith that Jesus saw. Jesus sees faith and bestows something that was not in these people’s minds! His unexpected utterance about the forgiveness of sins teaches the four people (bearers) as well as the paralytic, that people who come to him in full expectation and confidence may now anticipate exactly this benefaction. They entered with the expectation of something for one of them (healing) and receive something that is significant for all five (forgiveness).

For Jesus’ statement to the paralytic cannot be interpreted as an utterance meant exclusively for this man, as if his paralysis occurred in consequence of special sins4 that required special forgiveness. Christ addresses him as son. He uses the equivalent term, children, only once more when he speaks to his disciples (Mark 10:24). Jesus does not address the paralytic in this way because he is still a child5, for in Mark 2:11 it is apparent that he is an adult who is told to go home. But the word son is appropriate when a father forgives. Jesus speaks here the word of God the Father, according to content (forgiveness of sins), and according to tone (son): he lets fatherly love resound. His choice of words does not concentrate our attention on the serious personal sins of the paralytic, but rather on the promises John the Baptist had laid out before the people. He taught that all must confess their sins and must be baptized confessing their sins (Mark 1:4).

The first person who directly receives this forgiveness in Capernaum is someone who is completely paralyzed. This demonstrates to all the people that receiving this benefaction is only mercy. He who could not do even a little bit to receive it (the paralytic could not first walk to Jesus) is the first to share in it. From this point of view there is no reason to ask what merit the faith of one person can have for another.