Is it easier to say “your sins are forgiven” or “get up, take your pallet, and walk”?
There are two interpretations of the paralytic story and the saying about “the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins” which would take Yeshua’s words in a lesser manner, not as a self-claim to such great authority.
There is also a profound wisdom lesson in Yeshua’s riddle. This is a story that carries more complexity and meaning than many realize.
As for two lesser interpretations of “the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins,” consider:
(1) the idea that a prophet might have divine knowledge that a person’s sins are forgiven.
(2) the idea that Son of Man here means humanity in general. The meaning would be, people can declare each other’s sins to be forgiven.
These are in contrast to the maximal interpretation:
(3) the idea that Yeshua is the Son of Man and has unique authority to forgive sins.
Mark’s account is shaped to strongly suggest (3), though some scholars will continue pointing to (1) and (2) because they prefer, or at least want people to realize the possibility of, a non-divine Yeshua in Mark. The reasoning for such a position goes like this: Yeshua was considered divine only by the later Church after much reflection on the mysteries of his sayings and deeds. Mark is long before the Church came to this realization and thus we should avoid seeing hints of it in his gospel.
But in answer to (1) consider: While true, this interpretation does not fit Yeshua’s words, “the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.”
And in answer to (2): This interpretation is weak in light of the complicated, literary use of Son of Man in Mark, both for the eschatological and powerful figure of authority and, ironically, for the sufferer whose trials are a ransom for others. Yeshua’s saying is sufficiently ambiguous so that the opponents who hear him cannot pin him down and accuse him successfully in court of blasphemy. Yet Mark’s shaping of the story is clearly intended to remove all ambiguity for the reader.
And then there is the riddle. Yeshua’s way of demonstrating his authority is a wisdom tale. Forgiveness of sins is invisible and unprovable. Healing a visible disability is clear-cut. The riddle “which is harder?” is a doubly complex one. To the skeptic, the healing is harder because it requires demonstration. To the believer, granting forgiveness is harder, because broken union with God has consequences reaching farther than disability. In this first of five conflict stories, Yeshua visibly demonstrates his authority as the Son of God, though cloaking his identity in the more ambiguous Son of Man. Throughout Mark’s gospel there will be a growing realization that the Son of Man is the Son of God.