127 Commentary

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This page forms part of the resources for 127 Sickness and Sin in the Jesus Database project of FaithFutures Foundation

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Commentary

John Dominic Crossan

Crossan [Historical Jesus] (320-25) sets this event within the context of a discussion of the miracle tradition associated with Jesus. He begins by noting two processes that he sees at work in the corpus of miracle stories:

... one moving from event to process and the other in the opposite direction from process to event. By event I mean the actual and historical cure of an afflicted individual at a moment in time. By process I means some wider socioreligious phenomenon that is symbolized in and by such an individual happening. But just as event can give rise to process so process can give rise to event.

There is nothing very surprising in all of this. The basic symbolic interpretation postulated by Mary Douglas's body-society parallelism means that social symbolism is always latent in bodily miracle and that bodily miracle always has social signification. It is very easy and indeed inevitable to move in both directions, from body to society or event to process and from society to body or process to event. And it is very possible not to be certain at times in which way one is moving. There is no such thing as a simple miracle. There is no such thing as private magic. (p. 320f)

When he turns from theory to textual analysis, Crossan opts to consider the cures of paralytics in Mark 2:1-12 and John 5:1-7 as variants derived from one single traditional event. He is particularly impressed by the following similarities between the two stories:

  • the same problem (paralysis)
  • the need for assistance in moving to place of possible cure
  • the command to rise, carry the pallet, and walk
  • the conjunction of sin and sickness

Crossan notes the impact of excessive taxation on the mental and physical health of the poor, and the ways in which the resulting disease was attributed to sin rather than to injustice. The appropriate cure for an affliction resulting from sin was to be found in the Temple rituals, but that came at a price and added to the suffering of the poor. He observes:

When, therefore, John the Baptist with a magical rite or Jesus with a magical touch cured people of their sicknesses, they implicitly declared their sins forgiven or nonexistent. They challenged not only the medical monopoly of the doctors but the religious monopoly of the priests. All this was religiopolitically subversive. (p. 324)

The intersection of sin and sickness can be observed in the complex syntax in which Jesus reverses the logic of the traditional assumption that sickness is a divine judgment for sin and asks whether someone who could cure the sickness has not also forgiven the presumed sin:

2:9 Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, 'Your sins are forgiven,' or to say, 'Stand up and take your mat and walk'? 2:10 But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins"�he said to the paralytic�2:11 "I say to you, stand up, take your mat and go to your home."

It is precisely those questions that form as implications flowing from a healing miracle that Crossan suggests drive the movement from event to process, from a cure to a reflection on forgiveness, from an experience of forgiveness to questions about a divine power at work in and through Jesus. However, on his assessment, "in the beginning was the lame paralytic."


Jesus Seminar

The decisions of the Seminar can be represented as follows:

  • Mark 2:10
  • Mark 2:1-12
  • Matt 9:6
  • Matt 9:1-8
  • Luke 5:24
  • Luke 5:17-26
  • John 5:1-9

As a whole, the story in Mark 2 was voted GRAY. However, vss. 5b-10 received a strong PINK vote as an earlier form of the tradition without the post-Easter controversy over authority to forgive sins. (Similarly, the core of the John 5 story was thought by some Fellows to be an older healing story around which the evangelist has woven materials reflecting later Jewish/Christian disputes.)