Season 1, Episode 6 — ‘Indescribable Compassion’
Mark 1-2; Matthew 8-9; Luke 5
Synopsis. Jesus and his followers return to Capernaum. On the way there, they are met by a leper who has heard about the miracle in Cana and asks Jesus to heal him. Jesus does this, and the healing is witnessed by a woman named Tamar. Jesus then goes to Zebedee’s house, and a crowd gathers to hear him teach. The crowd attracts the attention of the Pharisees, who come to see the new teacher for themselves, and it also attracts the Romans and Matthew, the latter of whom is still puzzled by the miraculous catch of fish that he witnessed. Tamar shows up with some friends who are carrying a paralytic on a stretcher. Since they cannot push their way through the crowd, they go up to the roof and let the paralytic down into the house through an opening. Jesus forgives the paralytic’s sins — which shocks the Pharisees — and tells the paralytic to get up and walk. As the Romans disperse the crowd, Nicodemus tells Mary Magdalene he needs to speak to Jesus, while Jesus makes eye contact with Matthew just before leaving with the disciples.
Gospels. This episode revolves around two miracles from the Synoptic gospels: the healing of the leper (Mark 1:40-45, Matthew 8:1-4, Luke 5:12-16), and the healing of the paralytic (Mark 2:1-12, Matthew 9:1-8, Luke 5:17-26). This is the only episode from the second half of season one that does not make significant use of John’s gospel.
Chronologically, these two miracles happen fairly soon after Jesus calls his first disciples in Mark and Luke, but they happen several chapters after that in Matthew’s gospel.
In fact, Matthew specifies that these miracles happened after Jesus “came down from the mountainside”, i.e. after Jesus finished delivering the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 8:1). Suffice it to say that Jesus has not gone up into the mountains at all in this series yet, though some of his teachings in this episode are taken from that sermon.
This episode also depicts these miracles as the first healings performed by Jesus, and as the events which generate his fame. But in the gospels, Jesus had already performed other public exorcisms and healings, and people had already started bringing “all the sick and demon-possessed” to see him (Mark 1:21-39; cf. Matthew 4:23-25, Luke 4:31-41).
This episode follows the biblical version of the healing of the leper fairly closely, and has all of the details that appear in all three versions of that story in the gospels. However, the episode leaves out some of the details that are unique to individual gospels.
Luke 5:12 says the leper was healed “in one of the towns”, and Matthew 8:1 says the leper approached Jesus while the latter was being followed by “large crowds”. But in the episode, Jesus and five of his followers are on a path in the middle of nowhere — and have just started talking to a single stranger — when the leper approaches them.
Also, different versions of Mark 1:41 disagree on Jesus’ emotional response to the leper and his request to be healed. In some manuscripts, it says that Jesus was “indignant”, “incensed” or “angry”, while others say that Jesus was filled with “compassion” instead. Not surprisingly, this episode leans towards “compassion” — it’s even in the title!
This episode follows the healing of the paralytic fairly closely too, though there is greater variety in the biblical versions of the story, and the episode leaves out some details.
Most notably, all three of the biblical accounts agree that the paralytic was brought to Jesus on a mat (Mark 2:4, Matthew 9:2, Luke 5:19), and two of them specify that the mat was lowered through the roof of the house in which Jesus was teaching. (There is no lowering through the roof in Matthew.) But the paralytic is not lying on his mat when he comes down through the roof in this episode — he is holding onto a rope instead — which makes it a little odd when Jesus tells him, “Rise, pick up your bed, and go home.”
The two gospels that mention the lowering through the roof describe it in different ways. As one of the show’s consultants notes in the roundtable discussion of this episode, Mark says the friends were “digging through” the roof, while Luke says they lowered the paralytic “through the tiles”. This episode combines both accounts, by having the friends dig through the roof to pull out some planks in order to widen an existing hole.
Two of the gospels specify that the Pharisees and teachers of the law were “sitting” there while Jesus taught (Mark 2:6, Luke 5:17), but in this episode they are standing outside.
Those same two gospels say that the Pharisees and teachers of the law were “thinking” that Jesus was a blasphemer after he told the paralytic his sins were forgiven (Mark 2:6-8, Luke 5:21-22), while Matthew’s gospel says the teachers “said” this to themselves (Matthew 9:3-4). Either way, all three gospels state that Jesus knew their thoughts — and in this episode, the Pharisees say nothing, so Jesus speaks their thoughts for them.
Shmuel, one of the Pharisees, asks Jesus, “By whose authority do you teach?” No one asks this question in the biblical versions of this story. However, the chief priests and other elders do ask it near the end of Jesus’ ministry, after he “cleanses” the Temple in Jerusalem (Mark 11:27-33, Matthew 21:23-27, Luke 20:1-8; cf. John 2:18).
Finally, Mark 2:1 says the paralytic was healed “a few days” after the leper was healed, and Matthew 9:1 says the paralytic was healed after Jesus took a boat across the lake and returned to Capernaum from the region of the Gadarenes, where he cast some demons out of two men and into some pigs. In this episode, the paralytic is healed on the same day as the leper, after Jesus walks back to Capernaum from Cana and Nazareth.
Incidentally, the two gospels that mention the lowering through the roof do not say whose roof the paralytic was lowered through. Mark 2:1 says Jesus had “come home” before the crowds gathered to hear him, but that could be just a reference to Capernaum, rather than a specific house. Jesus stayed in Simon’s home during an earlier visit to Capernaum (Mark 1:29-37), so it’s possible that that’s where this miracle took place, too.
Between the two miracles, Jesus recites a number of teachings from the gospels:
- A woman recalls the parable of the fishing net, which Jesus preached in Episode 4, and asks when the day of judgment will come. Jesus replies by telling her the parable of the ten virgins (Matthew 25:1-13), and he augments the final line of the parable (“because you do not know the day or the hour”) by saying that “neither the angels in heaven nor the Son of Man know the day or the hour, but only the Father” (Mark 13:32, Matthew 24:36).
- Jesus asks if people who died in certain disasters — killed by Pilate’s men or by a falling tower in Siloam — were worse sinners than others (Luke 13:1-5).
- Jesus says prayer should be done privately, in your own room, instead of publicly, for show; and he says not to use impressive-sounding words (Matthew 6:5-8).
- Jesus says when you give to the needy, you should not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing (Matthew 6:2-4).
- Jesus tells the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector (Luke 18:9-14).
- Jesus tells the parable of the unjust judge (Luke 18:1-8).
- Jesus says God will clothe people just as he clothes the grass that is thrown into the fire (Matthew 6:28-30, Luke 12:27-28).
- Jesus says Zebedee wouldn’t put his light under a basket (Matthew 5:14-16; Luke 8:16, 11:33-36).
It is interesting that Jesus mentions “the Son of Man” the way he does here, given that he has not introduced this concept at any earlier point in the show’s dialogue.
The Son of Man is a figure who first appears in Daniel 7:13-14, in a prophecy about “one like a son of man” who comes to Heaven and is given authority, glory and power over all nations forever. Jesus alludes to this prophecy in the gospels when he predicts the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem and says people will see “the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory” (Mark 13:26-27; cf. Matthew 24:27, 30-31).
Some scholars, such as N.T. Wright, have argued that Jesus quoted that passage in Daniel to speak symbolically about the Son of Man coming to Heaven when the Temple was destroyed in the first century AD. But many people have assumed that Jesus was speaking literally about the Son of Man coming to Earth at some distant point in the future.
This episode leans towards the latter interpretation, as Jesus tells his audience that the angels and the Son of Man do not know when “the end of all things” will happen.
Jesus says his father Joseph was a “carpenter” and is now in Heaven.
The Greek word commonly translated as “carpenter” is tekton, which can refer to a range of activities and has other connotations besides. In Episodes 3 and 5, Jesus himself is identified as a “craftsman” rather than a carpenter, per se, but this episode falls back on the more conventional translation when describing Joseph’s profession.
The gospels never specify when Joseph died, but it is usually assumed that he died before Jesus started his ministry, because the gospels refer to Mary on multiple occasions — often in the company of Jesus’ brothers (Mark 3:31-32), disciples (John 19:25-27) or both (John 2:12, Acts 1:12-14) — but they never mention Joseph at this point in the story.
Zebedee says he likes genealogies, and Jesus says he is of the lineage of King Josiah.
There are two genealogies for Jesus — or, more accurately, his adoptive father Joseph — in the gospels, in Matthew 1:1-17 and Luke 3:23-38. They both agree that Joseph was descended from King David, but they disagree almost entirely on how.
Matthew basically traces the line through Solomon and most (but not all!) of the other kings that were descended from David. Luke, on the other hand, says Joseph was descended from David’s son Nathan, who never sat on the throne.
So the Jesus of this episode is citing Matthew’s genealogy rather than Luke’s.
Incidentally, Matthew’s genealogy is broken down into three groups of fourteen names, give or take: one group from Abraham to David, another group from David to Jeconiah (one of the last kings of Judah), and another group from Jeconiah to Joseph.
Matthew appears to be making a numerological point, inasmuch as 14 is the numerical value of David’s name in Hebrew. In Hebrew, as in many other alphabets, some letters do double duty as numbers; and in Hebrew, there are no vowels, only consonants. So “David”, in Hebrew, is “DVD” — the 4th letter (daleth), the 6th letter (vav), and the 4th letter again — which gives you 4 + 6 + 4 = 14. Thus, Jesus is the “son of David”.
But in order to get this symbolic number, Matthew has to leave some names out of his genealogy. Matthew claims that there are 14 generations between David and Jeconiah, but in actuality there were 18. Just compare Matthew 1:7-11 to I Chronicles 3:10-16. And the third group of fourteen is suspiciously short for a list that spans 600 years.
Jesus reveals that he can speak Egyptian, and he says he learned the language because he grew up in Egypt after his family moved there to escape a massacre in Bethlehem.
This bit of back-story comes from Matthew’s gospel, which says Herod ordered the death of all the boys in Bethlehem who were two years old or less. Matthew also says an angel warned Joseph to escape to Egypt with Mary and the young Jesus, and then the angel told Joseph to take the family back to Israel after Herod died (Matthew 2:13-23).
The gospel doesn’t say how old Jesus was when the family moved to Egypt, nor does it say how long the family stayed there. Because Herod targeted boys up to the age of two, it is often assumed that Jesus himself was two at the time — and sure enough, that is how old the Jesus of this series says he was when his family moved to Egypt.
But if Jesus is 30 years old and the series takes place in AD 26, he would have been born around 5 BC — and most historians agree that Herod died in 4 BC. So if Jesus was two years old when the family moved, maybe he was born slightly earlier than 5 BC?
In any case, how long would Jesus’ family have had to stay in Egypt, if they moved there shortly before Herod died? Would Jesus have had time to “grow up” there?
This episode introduces a new member of the disciples’ extended family: Zebedee’s wife, the mother of James and John, who is given the name Salome in this series.
Interestingly, the gospels never say what Zebedee himself thought of Jesus’ movement or what he did while his sons were part of it; they simply say that James and John left Zebedee in his boat (Mark 1:19-20, Matthew 4:21-22; cf. Luke 5:9-11).
But Zebedee’s wife is mentioned twice in Matthew’s gospel, and appears to have been one of Jesus’ followers. She asks Jesus to give her sons a place of privilege above the other disciples (Matthew 20:20-28) — a request that is made by her sons themselves in Mark’s gospel (Mark 10:35-45) — and she is present at the crucifixion (Matthew 27:56).
In this episode, Salome gazes at Jesus awkwardly and finally tells her sons to listen to him and stay by his side. One of her sons also comments that Simon is “the teacher’s pet”. Salome’s obsequiousness, combined with the fact that her sons are already thinking in terms of who has status within the Jesus movement, may hint at the fact that one day she will ask Jesus to give her sons the highest rank possible within his movement.
Jesus tells Simon he is escorting his mother back to Nazareth and will meet the disciples in Capernaum. But John 2:12 says Jesus went to Capernaum with his mother and his disciples (and his brothers!), and they all stayed there “for a few days.”
Jesus also states that, while Simon has a family, the other disciples do not. The New Testament doesn’t specify whether the other members of the Twelve had families, but it seems to indicate that at least some of them did (cf. Matthew 19:27-29, Luke 18:28-30; Paul also mentions the wives of “the other apostles” in I Corinthians 9:5, but he tends to use the word “apostles” to mean all of the hundreds of people who saw the risen Jesus — cf. I Corinthians 15:5-7 — so he’s not necessarily referring to the Twelve there).
John has a knife in his hand and is ready to use it when the leper approaches.
It is certainly possible that the disciples had weapons for self-defense when they traveled with Jesus. One of the disciples — identified in John’s gospel as Simon a.k.a. Peter — famously used a sword against one of the high priest’s servants on the night that Jesus was arrested (Mark 14:47, Matthew 26:51-54, Luke 22:48-51, John 18:10-11).
What’s more, Luke’s gospel tells us that, at the Last Supper, Jesus told the Twelve to go and buy swords for themselves if they didn’t have any already — and they replied that they already had two swords with them, which Jesus said was enough (Luke 22:35-38).
So John’s use of a weapon here may be a little jarring, but it’s not implausible.
Nicodemus and Shmuel have another debate about John the Baptist, and in the course of doing so they mention a few more details about his teaching.
Shmuel quotes John as saying, “After me comes one who is mightier than I, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie.” This is one of only two teachings of John’s that appear in all four gospels (Mark 1:7, Luke 3:16, John 1:27; in Matthew 3:11, John says he is not worthy to “carry” the sandals in question).
(The other teaching that appears in all four gospels is that the man who follows John will baptize people with the Holy Spirit; Mark 1:8, Matthew 3:11, Luke 3:16, John 1:35.)
Shmuel also notes that John called the Jewish leaders “vipers” (Matthew 3:7, Luke 3:7). In Episode 4, it was said that John called them all “snakes”, but this is more specific.
Shmuel is particularly upset that John has called them all “a brood of vipers” — i.e. viper offspring — because, as Shmuel puts it, vipers hatch inside their mothers, and that is apparently worse than hatching outside of their mothers as most snakes do.
Some ancient figures, such as the Greek historian Herodotus, thought vipers chewed their way out of their mothers and thereby killed their mothers, but in reality, vipers give birth to living young, and it is believed that this may be the origin of the word “viper”, which is derived from the Latin words vivus (“living”) and parere (“to beget”).
Old Testament. Nicodemus and Shmuel also quote some Old Testament passages.
Nicodemus has Shmuel read the passage from Isaiah 40 that has been quoted in earlier episodes, about a voice in the wilderness calling everyone to make straight the way of the Lord (Isaiah 40:1-3), and he says this voice could be the Baptizer (and indeed, all four gospels apply this passage to John; Mark 1:3, Matthew 3:3, Luke 3:4-6, John 1:23).
Shmuel, in his replies to Nicodemus, quotes a flurry of passages, some of them to argue against the idea that the Lord who comes after John could ever take human form:
- “He who justifies the wicked and he who condemns the righteous are both like an abomination to the Lord.” (Proverbs 17:15)
- “You shall not hate your brother in your heart.” Leviticus 19:17)
- “No man can see me [i.e. God] and live.” (Exodus 33:20)
- “You saw no face the day Adonai spoke to you at Horeb.” (Deuteronomy 4:15)
Nicodemus also says he does not want the Pharisees to become as rigid as the Sadducees by limiting God’s revelation to a handful of existing texts. Instead, he wants to believe that God can act in new and unexpected ways, and he says the Pharisees should “look to the ancient roads” and walk where the good paths are, à la Jeremiah 6:16.
Young James says he was planning at one point to go to Jerusalem to join “the 288” in the Temple choir. I Chronicles 25 spells out how many people were supposed to prophesy with music, and which branches of which families those men should come from.
Young James demonstrates his skill by singing a passage from Psalm 63:1.
Simon sings a passage from Psalm 104:34 as he tends to his sick mother-in-law.
Themes. This episode focuses mainly on how the fame of Jesus is growing, as word of his miracle in Cana attracts a leper, whose own healing attracts the paralytic, etc.
In the debate between Nicodemus and Shmuel over what to do about John the Baptist, the episode also focuses on the relationship between hidebound tradition — including the closing of the scriptural canon! — and the freedom of God to do new things.
Historical quibbles. See above re: Jesus and his parents escaping to Egypt.
A seemingly Jewish “pawn broker” shouts “Hades and Styx!” when he sees that one of his customers has leprosy. These are references to Greek mythology — specifically, to the realm where the dead spirits live and the river that borders it, and to the gods who embody those things — and it’s doubtful that a Jew would have used that exclamation.
The pawn broker says the leper is forbidden to be “within four cubits” of another person.
The Talmud reports that different rabbis recommended keeping different distances from lepers, depending on whether a wind was blowing. Some said the distance could be as little as four cubits, others said it should be as high as one hundred cubits.
The rabbis cited in the Talmud lived in the 3rd century AD, or about two centuries after this series takes place. The tradition may or may not go back earlier than that.
The Roman praetor Quintus says the taxes paid by Simon and Andrew will help the local district’s revenue exceed Pilate’s quarterly projections. Galilee was ruled by Herod Antipas at that time, not Pilate; the fact that Pilate and Antipas did not share jurisdiction is central to one of the stories about the arrest and trial of Jesus (Luke 23:6-7).
The Roman officer Gaius asks Matthew when his last “customer” came to pay their taxes. It’s an odd word to use — it seems to imply that taxation is a form of commerce — and Matthew replies, correctly, that he doesn’t have any “customers”.
Gaius then asks when Matthew tended to his last “citizen”. We noted in connection with Episode 5 that it was a bit anachronistic to hear Nicodemus speak of “Jewish citizens”. It is even stranger to hear a Roman soldier use that word in this context, given that Rome had a well-defined concept of “citizenship” that did not apply to most Jews.
Geography. Jesus says the rest of the disciples should continue going home together while he and Simon leave in different directions to take care of family business — Simon in Capernaum and Jesus in Nazareth. But the very next time we see the other disciples, Jesus is walking with them. How quickly did Jesus walk to Nazareth and back?
Miracles. As noted above, this episode revolves around two miraculous healings.
Humanization. Many Jesus films over the past half-century have gone out of their way to make Jesus seem more “human”, by having him smile and dance and so on. Audiences have responded favourably to these portrayals of Jesus, and have tended to treat each one as a novelty even though these sorts of portrayals are increasingly common.
But this series might mark the first time that the characters in a Jesus film are surprised by his humanity. In Episode 5, Simon was surprised to learn that Jesus, as a carpenter, had helped build latrines — toilets, basically — and now, in this episode, Simon’s wife Eden is surprised when she hears that Jesus danced at the wedding in Cana.
Timeline. The entire episode seems to take place the day after the miraculous catch of fish and the wedding in Cana. So if those stories took place two days before the Sabbath, this episode would seem to be taking place just one day before the Sabbath.
Language issues. Colloquialisms abound in this episode:
- Gaius says he and Matthew are “sitting ducks” while they stand by the money chest.
- Quintus responds to a person who interrupts him by saying, “No kidding.”
- Jesus tells the ex-leper, “Green is definitely your colour. Not too shabby.”
- Zebedee tells his wife, “We no longer have anyone on raisin duty.”
- One of Zebedee’s sons says Simon is “the teacher’s pet”.
- Andrew says to Peter, “That was some soulful singing, my man.”
- Andrew tells Tamar that he and the disciples are trying to keep Jesus’ miracles “under wraps for now”.
- As the paralytic stands up, Jesus tells him, “Easy does it.”
A subtitle also informs us that the Hebrew words above a shop say “Pawn Broker”.
Jesus tells his audience that “big words don’t matter” when you’re praying. This echoes a scene in Episode 4 where Simon said Matthew was using “a lot of big words”.
Miscellaneous. This is one of only two episodes — the other is Episode 4 — that begins right after one of the previous episodes, without any prologues or flashbacks.
Tamar comes from Egypt and her father was Ethiopian.
There are no explicit references to Ethiopia in the gospels, but there is a famous story in the book of Acts about an Ethiopian eunuch who was baptized by Philip on his way home from Jerusalem, where he had been worshiping in the Temple (Acts 8:26-39).
There are Jewish and Christian communities in Ethiopia that go back to ancient times, and that claim to have roots going all the way back to the 10th century BC, when the Queen of Sheba visited King Solomon in Israel (I Kings 10:1-13). Presumably the eunuch in the book of Acts came from one of those communities, and Tamar might, too.
This episode brings back Abigail and Joshua, the two main kids from Episode 3. They sit on a roof and watch as Jesus teaches in Zebedee’s house, and Matthew joins them.
Clip: Jesus heals the leper:
Clip: Jesus heals the paralytic:
The entire episode was also livestreamed on April 3, with an intro by director Dallas Jenkins and a chat with Paras Patel, who plays Matthew.