Lectionary Year B
February 20, 2000
Mark 2:1-12

Step II: Disposition


      In Mark 1:1 the reader is immediately told that the Book is the Gospel of Jesus Christ. At face value this seems to solve the question of Genre quickly, however, the matter of what is a gospel is not so easily answered. As discussed in class, the clear avoidance of the word bios or biography seems to indicate that it is not a biography. Perhaps it will be easier to diagnose a Gospel by eliminating that which it is not. As stated, it is not a biography although it does contain elements of one's story. It is also not a traditional history. The ordering of events is not of primary importance as any harmonization of the synoptics will show. The word itself proclaims "good news". So It may be likely that gospel is more about relating good news than details. We do not need to know who was killed and exactly where and in what order to know that a mass murder is bad news. Perhaps it is likewise true that Mark is not concerned with perfectly ordering the details and the time lines of events to relay the good news of Jesus.

      One clear mark of the gospels is the importance of the central figure, Jesus Christ. Donald Guthrie in his New Testament Introduction argues that this, "does not place them (Gospels) beyond critical examination, but it should urge caution before too readily assuming that they can without any conditions be placed alongside secular literature." Placed in this larger context we encounter the story of the "Paralytic" which appears to be a miracle story with important implications for telling the good news of Jesus. The miracle story displays that Jesus is one who can heal the sick. A very important piece of news if Jesus is indeed the Messiah. Within this story is also a Controversy dialogue in which Jesus confronts the scribes. The story is clearly set apart by the use of the postpositive "de" at the beginning and end of the story rather than Mark's characteristic "kia". This dialogue settles the matter of whether Jesus is a blasphemer or one given authority (or perhaps one who has authority). It displays that he has authority or power over sin on earth, a prerogative assigned to God. Is this implying an "I am" story?


      The "they" in verse three is very perplexing. Traditionally I have heard it taught as if the four are in opposition somehow to the greater "they" of the crowd. The tone in verse three indicated, however, that the "they" is a larger group to which the four belong. If this is the case, why could the four not get to Jesus? Is this some sort of group decision to cause Jesus to do something dramatic? Is the paralytic being lowered through the roof to somehow keep him from having time to react? The scene is dramatic and puzzling. There are many voices we do not hear. For instance the house owner would have been upset by the tearing up of his roof.

      As with many of Jesus' healing stories the importance of faith for healing is present. It is hard for our modern ears to hear that "because of their faith" he were healed. In this case because of their faith Jesus appears to take notice of them. Is this to say that without faith we are not noticed? Of course we all have doubts, will this prevent our healing?

      The insertion of the controversy dialogue is an interesting aside. Like the "they" in verse 3 the "there" in verse 6 is puzzling. Are they always there in this house? Or is this a later event that is brought to bear because as Gospel the story is about relating the good news of Jesus confronting the scribes not relating the exact ordering of events.

      A couple of phrases have jumped out at me. "Preaching the word" and "the son of man" are both phrases that roll off of our tongues with little thought for what they truly mean to us today and what they might have meant to the audience of this story. It would be worthwhile to dig a little further into these phrases and see their meanings.


      To a certain extent the exact historical record of this story is a secondary issue. If one accepts that gospel is not pure history, then it is not critical that the reader understands whether the scribes were present at the event or if "there" is more general. The phrases "son of man" and "preaching the word" could be delved into a little further with two methods, one to do a phrase study within the book and the New Testament. The second would be to take a look at inter-testamental writings and find what the usage was in times just prior to Jesus.

      The larger problem of understanding the purpose of the story is tied closely first to our understanding of miracle stories and controversy dialogues. This discussion will be further illuminated by continuing to hold in tension the question "what a gospel is or does?" Finally answers or options for all of these questions will be facilitated by further research into the work of other scholars.

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