It was love of human honour that distanced the Pharisees from faith in the Lord, which is why He said to them, “How can ye believe, which receive honour one of another, and seek not the honour that cometh from God only?” (John 5:44). Others were prevented from drawing nearby lands, weddings, or worries about the affairs of this life (Luke 14:18‐20), but the paralyzed man’s physical weakness put an end to such things and removed them from his thoughts. There are times when illness is better for sinners than good health, because it helps them towards salvation and blunts their inborn evil impulses. Inasmuch as it repays the debt of sins by means of suffering, it makes them able to receive healing of their souls in the first instance, then healing of their bodies. This happens most of all when the sick person, understanding that the affliction is a remedy from God, bears it courageously, falls down before God with faith and asks for forgiveness, through whatever works he can manage. This was shown by the paralyzed man who did what he could, and proved by the Lord’s own words and actions. The Pharisees, however, were incapable of comprehending, and blasphemed and murmured among themselves (Mark 2:6‐7). “When Jesus”, it says, “saw their faith”, the faith, that is, of the bed-ridden man who had been lowered, and of those who had let him down from the roof, “he said unto the sick of the palsy, Son, thy sins be forgiven thee” (Mark 2:5).
What a blessed way to be addressed! He hears himself called “son” and is adopted as the child of the heavenly Father. He is joined to God who is without sin, having immediately become sinless himself through the forgiveness of his sins. In order that his body can subsequently be renewed, his soul first receives deliverance from sin from the Lord, who knows that in the beginning when the soul fell into the snares of sin, physical illness and death followed, in accordance with His righteous judgment.
But when the scribes heard, “They reasoned”, it says, “in their hearts, Why doth this man thus speak blasphemies? who can forgive sins but God only?” (Mark 2:6‐7). As the Creator of men’s hearts, the Lord knew the secret thoughts in the scribes’ hearts, and said to them, “Why reason ye these things in your hearts? Whether is it easier to say to the sick of the palsy, Thy sins be forgiven thee; or to say, Arise, and take up thy bed, and walk?” (Mark 2:8‐ 9). It seemed to the scribes that the Lord was unable to heal the paralyzed man, so He had resorted to something obscure, forgiving him his sins. Just to pronounce words of forgiveness, especially in such an authoritative and commanding way, was blasphemy; but it was also something easy that anyone could do. That is why the Lord said to them, “If I wanted to utter empty words without any practical outcome, it would be just as easy to declare that the paralyzed man should rise from his bed as that his sins were forgiven, both statements being of no effect. But so that you may know that my word is not ineffectual, and that I did not resort to forgiving his sins because I was incapable of granting him healing of his illness, but that I have divine power on earth as the Son who is of one substance with the Father in heaven, although, according to the flesh, I have become of one substance with your ungrateful selves”, He then says to the paralyzed man, “I say unto thee, Arise, and take up thy bed, and go thy way into thine house. And immediately he arose, took up the bed, and went forth before them all” (Mark 2:11‐12).
Although Christ’s words and the miracle were at odds with the scribes’ reasoning, in some ways they agreed with it. They show that no human being is able in his own right to forgive sins. They also show, however, that the Pharisees’ opinion that Christ was merely a man, not almighty God, was false and devoid of understanding. Something that no one had ever seen or heard of had now come to light. Christ was both God and man, twofold in nature and energy. On the one hand He spoke as a man like us, on the other hand as God He accomplished whatever He pleased through His word and command alone. He confirmed by His deeds that in the beginning, according to the psalmist, “He spake, and it was done, he commanded, and it stood fast” (Ps. 33:9). Now the deed immediately followed His word. The paralyzed man stood up at once, “and took up the bed, and went forth before them all; insomuch that they were all amazed” (Mark 2:12). Often men can bring about by a word the forgiveness of the sins of someone who offends against them. But only God can put to flight such an illness as this merely by a word of command. The evangelist remarks that everyone watching was amazed and glorified God, for it was clearly He who had done this wonder. They glorified Him who does innumerable glorious and extraordinary works, saying, “We never saw it on this fashion” (Mark 2:12).
St Gregory Palamas