Reading the New Testament is a challenge not only because it was written almost 2000 years ago using a pre-modern metaphorical language, but also because the first four books of the New Testament (and others) use a devise I will call “Spirit Parables.” For example, “The Kingdom of God is like a mustard seed that grows into a large tree.” This style of communication is also present in the stories of healing. Following is an example from the Gospel of Mark (Mark 2: 1-12).
This selection is taken from my commentary on the Gospel of Mark. This entire book is now published on the Realistic Living blog site for $10.
When he [Jesus] re-entered Capernaum some days later, a rumor spread that he was in somebody’s house. Such a large crowd collected that while he was giving them his message it was impossible even to get near the doorway. Meanwhile, a group of people arrived to see him, bringing with them a paralytic whom four of them were carrying. And when they found it was impossible to get near him because of the crowd, they removed the tiles from the roof over Jesus’ head and let down the paralytic’s bed through the opening. And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the man on the bed, “My son, your sins are forgiven.”
But some of the scribes were sitting there silently asking themselves, “Why does this man talk such blasphemy? Who can possibly forgive sins but God?”
Jesus realized instantly what they were thinking, and said to them, “why must you argue like this in your minds? Which do you suppose is easier—to say to a paralyzed man, ‘Your sins are forgiven’, or ‘Get up, pick up your bed and walk’? But to prove to you that the Son of Man has full authority to forgive sins on earth, I say to you,”—and here he spoke to the paralytic—“Get up, pick up your bed and go home.”
At once the man sprang to his feet, picked up his bed and walked off in full view of them all. Everyone was amazed, praised God, and said, “We have never seen anything like this before.”
This man is paralyzed. He is down like dead. He is carried by four bearers. A hole is made and he is lowered down. Down in the bottom of the hole that they “make” in the roof of this house is Jesus, and Jesus says to this prone man, “Child, your sins are forgiven.” These allusions to death and resurrection are clearly intentional. Mark intends for us to “get it,”—to hear this Spirit lesson: “the spiritually dead are raised up through forgiveness.”
Mark has introduced a new theme: “forgiveness.” The religious scholars in Mark’s story take offense that a mere human being can declare forgiveness. “Only God,” they say, “can forgive.” But Jesus, sensing their rejection, clarifies that the son of Adam (that is, any authentic human being) has authority to forgive sins. But Jesus does not say to the man, “I forgive you.” He says “Your sins are forgiven” The meaning here is that Jesus is the Mouth of God speaking for God about a forgiveness that is extended to all of us. Mark further clarifies that accepting forgiveness and rising up from your paralysis are one and the same thing. The down-like-dead man, hearing that he is forgiven, gets up, picks up his mat, and goes home. Forgiveness is not an excuse for remaining dead. Forgiveness is a fresh start in being alive.
Some of the people standing around feel the Awe of this. They become ecstatic. They extol the Awesome Infinite Silence for confronting them with this possibility. They exclaim, “We’ve never seen the likes of this!”
Now what is Mark talking about with this story? What is going on here that could be so Awesome, so new, so important? Clearly, Mark is talking about more than the literal elements of the story. Honestly, who cares whether or not some paralyzed man who lived 2000 years ago got back on his feet? Mark is telling us that Jesus is the one who meets us, each of us, at the lowest point of our spirit condition–when we are indeed dead in our despair, unable even to walk our lives; when we are out flat, having to be carried by others. When despair has blocked all possibility of going on with our lives, at this point Jesus says to us: “Your despair is forgiven. Everything in your past or in your present life over which you are despairing is forgiven. You have, right now, a fresh start before you; arise and walk it.” When some despairing person actually accepts such forgiveness, all of us feel the Awe.
Every story in Mark’s narrative can be read as a parable about our spirit lives. This is not an imposition on the text. This is what Mark intended to happen to his readers. He is a trickster, tricking us into getting something clear in our own lives, not because Mark says so, but because it is SO. We can see this for ourselves, if we do the looking. Herein is the authority of Scripture, that it can reveal to us in our own experience what is SO about our lives. It is not because the church selected Mark as scripture. It is not that we have been taught that Mark was inspired. It is SO because we can see it is SO, if we have found our spirit eyes with which to see for ourselves. Mark uses the parable method of communication to forces us to use our own spirit resources to see what he is saying. And if we don’t see for ourselves the truth of scripture, we don’t see the truth of scripture. And we don’t see that it deserves to be scripture in this religion.