1. Mark 2:9–10 (ESV)
  2. Exposition

What was Jesus comparing as easier and more difficult?

Mark 2:9–10 (ESV)

9 Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise, take up your bed and walk’?

In Mark 2:9 Jesus points out the unreasonableness of the scribes’ suspicions. Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, Your sins are forgiven, or to say, Rise, take up your bed and walk? Many commentaries explain this verse as if it compares speaking about forgiveness and performing a healing. The first would supposedly be unverifiable and therefore easier, while the second is verifiable and therefore more difficult. In that case Jesus would posit that he will do not only what is easy and cheaper (namely, speaking about forgiveness), but also the more difficult and weighty (namely, performing a healing). However, this exegesis raises the following objections:

  1. In Mark 2:9 Jesus does not compare saying with doing, but he compares two kinds of saying with each other. The point of the contrastive comparison does not concern the saying, but the content of the twofold saying. He compares forgiving sins and healing: which is easier? Undoubtedly, healing of the body is easier than bestowing the full forgiveness of God. Although the work of healing is difficult, it has to be easier than the work that only God can do, namely, forgiving!

  2. In Mark 2:10 Jesus does not say that by the healing he will show that he, who does the difficult act, can also do the easier. The healing is no proof of the forgiveness. It is proof of Jesus’ right to forgive. We have to interpret Mark 2:9 as an independent sentence: I could have made it easy for myself by focusing only on the (requested) healing and remaining silent about the forgiveness that no one sought! Mark 2:10 then takes a step further: However, I want you to see the healings I do as proof of my competence to bring the forgiveness promised by God and announced by John the Baptist. 

Through his words to the scribes, Jesus gives a new dimension to his miracles from this point on. In themselves, the miracles were acceptable to all the Jews. However, from now on they have to accept them as legitimating Jesus’ competence to forgive sins and to do God’s work in Israel. So thereby Jesus does the less easy thing. Not only because only God can give that forgiveness, but also because precisely this speaking about his actual work (forgiving) causes him great difficulty and will lead to even greater difficulty. While the people admired Jesus for his power over the demons, they will kill him for his pretension to be God’s Son.

The fact that speaking about forgiveness was more difficult than speaking about healing, was apparent already in Capernaum. The statement about forgiveness raises suspicion and causes the leaders to plan to kill him (as a blasphemer). It is apparent that Jesus did not come for his own success, but truly to forgive the sins of people who need it, without them wishing for it, and to suffer in rejection and on the cross. By his statement before the forum of the scribes, he intentionally exposes himself to their defense and evil plans.1