Acts 3 is the story of Peter and John's encounter of the man lame from birth who begged them for alms. I stopped short of having us all sing: Peter and John went to pray/They met a lame man on the way/He asked for alms and held out his palms..." - but only because I failed to think about it!
The conversation turned on our habitual resignation and even cynicism about the way life is - for others like the lame beggar in the story, but also for us before such chronic human misery.
Our imaginations pictured a lame man at an entrance where lots of people were entering at the hour of daily prayers. Luke seems to emphasize that the man was not only lame, but lame from birth; apparently Luke's purposeful way to let us know that this man has never known what it is to walk. Which is also a way of telling us that his situation is utterly hopeless.
We wondered how the lame man got there.
We wondered how long he had been coming there.
We wondered at what age he started.
Things haven't changed much in the world, in our worlds. We know such situations even today, don't we?
We not only experience resignation and even cynicism when looking at the conditions and circumstances of someone else; we experience resignation and even cynicism ourselves, helpless and hopeless that we have anything to offer to make a difference. The cartoon character, Mr. Magoo, used to say, "It'll never work." And we agree with him more than we probably care to admit.
You know, I have to admit that this story makes me quite uncomfortable.
Peter and John in the situation make it seem all too simple; looking at my (our?) reality, I can't help but believe that it is too simple. This isn't within the realm of possibility for us, for my world. The lame man asks for alms. Peter says he has no money to give him, but will give him what he does have. Taking the lame man by the hand, Peter lifts him to his feet while he says, "In the name of Jesus, rise up and walk." The story ends with the man "jumping and leaping and praising God."
It's my opinion that if we read this story and nothing gets stirred up in us, then we are missing
something. I pass human misery every day on the streets of Houston. And most of the time - actually 99.9% of the time - I don't ever take a second look. It simply blends into whatever background it happens to be in front of. But this story brings to the fore something important that may help, something that may prompt a new possibility for those in misery and those like me who encounter it daily.
As purposeful as Luke is to say that the man was not just lame, but lame from birth, he seems equally purposeful in another detail. When the lame man asked for money, Luke says that, "Peter looked straight at him, as did John. And then Peter said, 'Look at us!" (Acts 3:4). Hmmm. That makes me stop and think a bit; makes me think that something hopeful, some new possibility that only God can bring happens when we stop and really look at another person, when we really "see" and the other "sees" back.
In looking at the lame man and the calling of the man to look at them, a glimmer of hope hangs on to me in this story. Seeing the other in helpless and hopeless misery, and letting my own self be seen - my own helpless and hopeless shortcoming to make a difference, both of us in resignation and even cynicism - is actually the starting gating for the journey to, in fact, make a difference.
And it is the place where each of us must start.
Thanks a lot Luke! Seriously. Thanks.