1 When Jesus returned to Capernaum after some days, it became known that he was at home. 2 Many gathered together so that there was no longer room for them, not even around the door, and he preached the word to them. 3 They came bringing to him a paralytic carried by four men. 4 Unable to get near Jesus because of the crowd, they opened up the roof above him. After they had broken through, they let down the mat on which the paralytic was lying. 5 When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, "Child, your sins are forgiven." 6 Now some of the scribes were sitting there asking themselves, 7 "Why does this man speak that way? He is blaspheming. Who but God alone can forgive sins?" 8 Jesus immediately knew in his mind what they were thinking to themselves, so he said, "Why are you thinking such things in your hearts? 9 Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, 'Your sins are forgiven,' or to say, 'Rise, pick up your mat and walk'? 10 But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority to forgive sins on earth" -- 11 he said to the paralytic, "I say to you, rise, pick up your mat, and go home." 12 He rose, picked up his mat at once, and went away in the sight of everyone. They were all astounded and glorified God, saying, "We have never seen anything like this."

13 Once again he went out along the sea. All the crowd came to him and he taught them. 14 As he passed by, he saw Levi, son of Alphaeus, sitting at the customs post. He said to him, "Follow me." And he got up and followed him. 15 While he was at table in his house, many tax collectors and sinners sat with Jesus and his disciples; for there were many who followed him. 16 Some scribes who were Pharisees saw that he was eating with sinners and tax collectors and said to his disciples, "Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?" 17 Jesus heard this and said to them (that), "Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do. I did not come to call the righteous but sinners."

18 The disciples of John and of the Pharisees were accustomed to fast. People came to him and objected, "Why do the disciples of John and the disciples of the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?" 19 Jesus answered them, "Can the wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them? As long as they have the bridegroom with them they cannot fast. 20 But the days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast on that day. 21 No one sews a piece of unshrunken cloth on an old cloak. If he does, its fullness pulls away, the new from the old, and the tear gets worse. 22 Likewise, no one pours new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the wine will burst the skins, and both the wine and the skins are ruined. Rather, new wine is poured into fresh wineskins."

23 As he was passing through a field of grain on the sabbath, his disciples began to make a path while picking the heads of grain. 24 At this the Pharisees said to him, "Look, why are they doing what is unlawful on the sabbath?" 25 He said to them, "Have you never read what David did when he was in need and he and his companions were hungry? 26 How he went into the house of God when Abiathar was high priest and ate the bread of offering that only the priests could lawfully eat, and shared it with his companions?" 27 Then he said to them, "The sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath. 28 That is why the Son of Man is lord even of the sabbath."



  • The stage has been set (chapter 1). Jesus' urgent mission touched and transformed many lives.
    • And yet the authorities -- who should have rejoiced, if they were really godly men -- were not so happy about this!
    • In chapters 2 and 3 we find opposition between Jesus and the establishment, the old way and the new way.
  • In verses 1-12 Jesus is back in Capernaum, after being forced to withdrawn from the town due to unwanted publicity. Here he heals a paralytic.
    • The man is healed in part because of his friends' faith. They persevere to get him into a situation where he will come into contact with Jesus.
    • Jesus claims to forgive his sins -- which miffs the religious leaders.
      • Since only God can forgive sins, Jesus' words amount to a claim of divinity.
      • In the leaders' view, Jesus has spoken blasphemy.
    • But to prove that he has the authority to forgive sins, he also heals the man -- the lesser of his two needs.
    • The impact on the crowd is electric.
  • Jesus' second conflict is caused by reaching out to Levi (vv.13-17).
    • Levi is Matthew's other name. See the parallel passage in Matthew 9:9.
    • Tax collectors were in effect supporting the Roman occupation, and thus incurred the wrath of the populace. But scholars have demonstrated that they were despised less for being quislings than for being dishonest.
      • That Jesus reached out to such a person demonstrated courage, love, and strength of conviction.
      • In Christ and in his church, disparate elements are united. Former enemies are now brothers. There is no one we should avoid reaching out to.
    • Jesus did more than just speak with Levi; he ate at his house, joined by many other "sinners."
      • Predictably, this drew sharp criticism.
      • Jesus explained that the "sick" needed a doctor.
        • The religious leaders thought themselves to be healthy, and in no need of the Great Physician (Jesus).
        • We could paraphrase: "I have not come to call the self-righteous..." Such persons never hear the call.
        • On the other hand, this view doesn't quite work with the parallelism of the passage, and there is disagreement among interpreters about how to understand the saying.
  • The third conflict is triggered over the issue of fasting (vv.18-22). The Baptist's disciples fasted, as did the Pharisees', but not Jesus' followers. In response, Jesus taught:
    • There would come a time when his followers would fast (after his death). But the joyful life of disciples of Christ was never meant to be glum or sour. He would not allow his movement to be conformed to the stiff, legalistic religious mold.
    • As with unshrunk cloth and new wineskins, a rupture is likely if we are not careful. The new naturally puts pressure on the old -- pressure that easily leads to tearing or rupture.
      • There is tension between the new covenant, soon to be inaugurated, and the old.
      • There is tension between the abundant life and legalism.
      • So we see that these illustrations are more about the relationship of Christianity to Judaism than about individuals change (new creations), even though there is some legitimate secondary application at this level.
  • The fourth conflict of the chapter centers around the Sabbath issue (vv.23-28).
    • Jesus was breaking the Pharisees' Sabbath regulations.
    • It is not so clear he was violating any O.T. command.
    • Either way, he has an important theological point to make: the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. The religious leaders of the day had totally misunderstood God's intention for the Law.
    • Note that Jesus was not annulling the Sabbath, but interpreting it in light of the kingdom, his teaching, and its true significance.
  • In this chapter we see four sources of tension between Christ and the establishment:
    • Suspect theology (claiming the power of forgiveness).
    • Breaking protocol (reaching out to Levi).
    • Failure to follow their customs (fasting).
    • Breaking their religious rules (Sabbath).
    • And the tension will spill over into chapter 3...


  • In the Mishnah, the enormous book compiled around 200 AD from the various traditions and discussions of the rabbis, there are six tractates. One of them deals exclusively with Sabbath law. There were 39 Sabbath laws one had to be careful not to break (Shabb. 7.2). This was felt to be enormously important to first century Jews. And yet hair-splitting was all too common, and their regulations went well beyond what the Torah actually stipulated.
  • In the Mishnah the Pharisees fasted on Mondays and Thursdays (see Luke 18:12). Christians didn't want their fast days to coincide, so they selected different days: Wednesday and Friday (Didache 8:1). For more on fasting, please listen to the podcast on Prayer & Fasting.
  • The Dead Sea Scrolls, copied by the monastic community of c.4000 at Qumran, off the NW shore of the Dead Sea, shed considerable light on contemporary Judaism–and thus on the N.T. background. CD 10.14-11:18 forbade helping an animal giving birth, or one that has fallen into a pit or cistern, if this takes place on the Sabbath. In fact, people weren't even supposed to help humans on the Sabbath in CD 11.16-17–though this is not to say that all Jews took this position. The Qumran community, who gave us the DSS, was especially strict. The Essenes of Qumran even forbade bowel movements on the Sabbath (work?)! The later Mishnah (Mek. Exod. 31:12) allows violation of the Sabbath in case of serious human need. Another Mishnaic passage, m.Yoma 8:6, reads "Any case in which there is a possibility that life is in danger thrusts aside the sabbath law."
  • The historical precedent Jesus cites in verse 26 is from 1 Samuel 21. What was the name of this (high) priest, Abiathar or Ahimelech? Some suggest that father and son may have been working together–not surprising in a hereditary franchise like the priesthood. Another possibility is that this section of the OT—this is many centuries before there were any chapter numbers—was headed "Abiathar," who was the better known of the two priests, and thus it woods have been more natural to refer to him than to Ahimelech.

Thought questions
  • Is your ministry actually (or potentially) in a state of tension with traditional "churchianity"? Do you easily conform to the conventions of the religious majority, or do you take a stand on principle, sometimes coming into conflict with the "authorities"?
  • Are you experiencing freedom in Christ, or are you weighed down by legalism? See Colossians 2:16-23 and Matthew 11:28-30.
  • Do you see that Jesus was not a non-conformist for the sake of non-conformity, or novelty, but because some things are right and some things are wrong?