3One day Peter and John were going up to the temple at the hour of prayer, at three o’clock in the afternoon. 2And a man lame from birth was being carried in. People would lay him daily at the gate of the temple called the Beautiful Gate so that he could ask for alms from those entering the temple. 3When he saw Peter and John about to go into the temple, he asked them for alms. 4Peter looked intently at him, as did John, and said, “Look at us.” 5And he fixed his attention on them, expecting to receive something from them. 6But Peter said, “I have no silver or gold, but what I have I give you; in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, stand up and walk.” 7And he took him by the right hand and raised him up; and immediately his feet and ankles were made strong.
8Jumping up, he stood and began to walk, and he entered the temple with them, walking and leaping and praising God. 9All the people saw him walking and praising God, 10and they recognized him as the one who used to sit and ask for alms at the Beautiful Gate of the temple; and they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him. 11While he clung to Peter and John, all the people ran together to them in the portico called Solomon’s Portico, utterly astonished.
12When Peter saw it, he addressed the people, “You Israelites, why do you wonder at this, or why do you stare at us, as though by our own power or piety we had made him walk? 13The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of our ancestors has glorified his servant Jesus, … 16And by faith in his name, his name itself has made this man strong, whom you see and know; and the faith that is through Jesus has given him this perfect health in the presence of all of you.
Luke says the church was formed by the gift of the Holy Spirit and in gathering around the Apostles’ teaching and then Luke moves on to relate stories of the Apostles’ ministry in Jerusalem. The first scene in the Book of Acts after the story of Pentecost is this passage in which Peter and John respond to the request of a lame man for assistance. Their response wasn’t what was expected. Instead of alms it becomes an opportunity for healing.
Of course the first thing the encounter required was that the Apostles actually saw the invalid. Reminds we of the song that went ‘Slow down, your moving too fast…” We can get so distracted, absorbed or so intent of our agenda that we can miss seeing someone in need.
This healing story follows the typical form of healing stories in the gospels. By following the typical forms for healings Luke demonstrates a continuity between the work of Jesus and that of the Apostles. Ancient healing stories intend to demonstrate the power of the healer. This story certainly does that — the patient presents with a congenital disability of his lower extremities. His condition is such that he had to be carried by others. But, once the healing has occurred, he can not only walk but is able to leap up and walk. Only a truly significant power could bring about such results. And as Peter makes clear, the power at play was not Peter’s own but the power of the name of Jesus Christ (Acts 3:12, 16).
When we look beneath the surface of this healing story we see that something else is going on as well. The lame man is already making the best of his situation. Each day, with help, he has himself placed at the Beautiful Gate outside the temple to have the best chance to receive alms from those entering the temple. The Journal of the Scientific Study of Religion reported that people who regularly attend religious services give more to religious and secular charities. The location of the Beautiful Gate at the temple is insignificant but the lame man’s location, on the other hand, is of great interest. He begs outside the temple from those going inside. He is not there as part of the worshiping community but as someone seeking charity from that community. There was another reason for his being outside the Temple, according to the rules of Leviticus 21 because of his deformity he was considered impure.
After he is healed, not only does the man’s ability change, so does his location. Luke tells us he “entered the temple with the Apostles, walking and leaping and praising God”. This is important. The healing moves the man from outside the temple to inside of it, from someone not able to participate in the worshiping community to being part of it. In other words, hidden in the details of the healing story is an important message about the church; to be included in the worshiping community is to experience a form of healing.
In this story do you identify with the apostles. Can you see yourself in a place of offering healing to others by including them in our community of faith. The inclusion of outsiders stands in continuity with the ministries of Jesus and of the apostles. Imagine what an impact that has for today. But that raises the necessity of knowing those who sit near our gates, on the edges of the church or of society, those who may find wholeness. It’s noteworthy that Peter did not require of the lame man belief in Christ to offer him healing. It was Peter’s belief in Christ that effected the healing. Similarly, the church need not accept only those who believe and act like us. This passage calls congregations as well as individual Christians to reach out to the stranger, the other. In the name of Christ, we can offer healing to refugees, those of different socio-economic status, immigrants, the disabled, people of different racial and ethnic backgrounds, persons of different sexual orientations, and so forth. Those at the gates and the kind of healing needed by them may look different in different congregational contexts, but as we see in this text, the gift of inclusion is as old as the church itself.
By the same token is it the one who found healing with whom you most readily identify? I guess I’m asking your experience of being healed and have known the joy of being included. A week or so ago Michael Cabus posted this on Facebook “Happy to write I am now an official Quaker…I was accepted to be a member of Princeton Friends Meeting…I am a person whose perhaps only good quality is the ability to evolve, but I hope to become a good example of Quaker values…thanks for everyone being welcoming to me in this virtual space.” We so often think of ourselves as “joining” the church in the fashion of a consumer choosing a restaurant at which to dine or a store at which to shop. How different it is to recall being lifted up by the right hand and escorted into the worshiping community. What a thing to celebrate. It’s grace. Not your will power, not the power of those who midwifed your finding wholeness, it is the grace of Christ at work, lifting you up and wrapping you into the love and embrace of those who claim the name of Jesus.
There’s yet another way the Apostles continued the work of Jesus. According to the ritual purity the person healed was to go to the priest and offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving. The Apostles brought the man in side the Temple with them. Seems such a simple thing. Seems so very natural, yet quite contemporary, risking the rancor of the keepers of the Temple rules. Dare we? Dare we be inclusive in our place of worship and in our community of faith?