Bible Study 4.23.12, 4.26.12, 4.29.12 For Worship 5.6.12Posted: April 21, 2012
Bible Study 4.23.12, 4.26.12, 4.29.12 For Worship 5.6.12
Acts 3:1 Now Peter and John were going up to the temple at the hour of prayer, the ninth hour.
2 And a man lame from birth was being carried, whom they laid daily at that gate of the temple which is called Beautiful to ask alms of those who entered the temple.
3 Seeing Peter and John about to go into the temple, he asked for alms.
4 And Peter directed his gaze at him, with John, and said, “Look at us.”
5 And he fixed his attention upon them, expecting to receive something from them.
6 But Peter said, “I have no silver and gold, but I give you what I have; in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.”
7 And he took him by the right hand and raised him up; and immediately his feet and ankles were made strong.
8 And leaping up he stood and walked and entered the temple with them, walking and leaping and praising God.
9 And all the people saw him walking and praising God,
10 and recognized him as the one who sat for alms at the Beautiful Gate of the temple; and they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him.
According to tradition initially the early church stayed in Jerusalem. Apparently in the beginning they believed that Jesus was coming back any day, and they wanted to be in Jerusalem to welcome him. They probably believed that the cosmic Christ would also bring an army of angels to establish the reign of God, and then they would be appointed Prime Minister, and Chancellor of the Exchequer, and Secretary of the Interior etc. Slowly but surely they began to figure out that Jesus wasn’t physically coming back any time soon. Jesus was with them in the breaking of the bread. Jesus was also with them in the power of the Holy Spirit. Jesus was with them as they began to continue his ministry of feeding and healing people. Our story today comes not too long after the experience of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit surprised them all, showing up when they least expected it, and rather than bringing back Jesus, the Holy Spirit propelled the disciples out into the streets to share the good news of Jesus. This passage is about the very first time one of the followers of Jesus became the agent of healing after the death of Jesus.
Of course the hero of the story is Peter. Feed my sheep. Heal my lambs Peter. Peter had failed Jesus, of course no worse than any of the other disciples, but he had failed Jesus, and now Peter was going to lead the community of faith into a whole new ministry – healing.
At this point the disciples were still going each day to the Temple in order to pray. Peter and John were going into the Temple at the “hour of prayer,” the afternoon hour of prayer about 3 p.m. In the Jewish practice of praying the hours, 3 p.m. is still one of the important hours of prayer, and you can see people rushing through the streets of the old City in order to pray at the Western Wall.
There is some question about what gate in the story is the “Beautiful Gate.” There was a gate inside the temple leading to the court of the men that was called the Beautiful Gate, but some scholars believe a more propitious place for a beggar to sit and ask for alms would have been at the main gate on the south side of the temple next to the Hulda Gates, where there would have been more traffic. This would seem to be more in keeping with the phrase “to ask alms of those who entered the temple.”
The beggar sees Peter and John and asks for a hand out. Peter makes eye contact with the beggar. We should remember that most people do not make eye contact with beggars. Even people who give panhandlers money mostly treat them as non-persons. But Peter engaged this beggar by saying, “look at us.” Have you ever gone to an appointment with a physician, and they walk into the room look down at the chart the whole time, write a prescription and leave, without ever looking you in the eye? In the past many doctors have treated patients as non-persons, and we wonder why people didn’t get well? A healer has to have the courage to look a patient in the eyes and make contact. Unfortunately many of our physicians are so rushed for time now trying to sandwich in as many patients as possible, even if they wanted to make eye contact, I’m not sure they have enough time to connect with the patient.
Peter connects with the beggar. He makes eye contact, and then he utters unusual words, who knows where they came from? “I have no silver and gold, but I give you what I have; in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.” What Peter does have is faith, and he manages to impart that faith to the beggar. We should note the lame man probably did not stand up immediately and dance or run. Slowly he began to walk, and slowly he began to realize he had been healed. This was the first healing of the early church without Jesus. For Jerusalem this was a major event. Many of Jesus’ reported healings from Galilee were undoubtedly dismissed as a charlatan. They weren’t really sick or lame of blind in the first place. But this beggar, who had panhandled at the Temple day after day, this healing could not be dismissed so easily. He was well known to the people as the lame beggar, and now he was walking right into the Temple Courts big as life.
Now this story raises an interesting question. If this beggar had been sitting at the gate to the Temple day after day, why had not Jesus healed him, as Jesus passed by on his way into the Temple? The gospels leaves an impression that Jesus was healing everyone all over the place all the time. Probably Jesus healed some people and didn’t heal others. The healing miracles of Jesus are so wide and varied it is hard to make any generalizations about those healings. In fact the generalizations I am about to make can be contradicted by examples from the gospels.
First, Jesus didn’t heal anyone against his or her will. There were times when Jesus healed individuals at the behest of a third party, but I think we can assume the individual had a desire for healing.
Second in more of Jesus’ healing miracles the person desiring healing engaged Jesus. They actively sought him out, and expressed some belief that Jesus could be an agent in their healing.
Third, again and again and again after a healing Jesus said, “your faith has made you whole.” Therefore I think it is fair to imply that faith was somehow an important agent in the healings performed by Jesus.
The lame beggar at the Beautiful Gate had sat begging for alms, when Jesus passed by, but perhaps he had never reached out in faith in a way that made healing possible until Peter engaged him by truly looking him in the eye. My experience in pastoral ministry is people don’t change unless they are highly motivated. I think that observation is also true of healing. Unless we are willing to listen to the physician, and follow the treatment plan, we probably won’t get well. The same is true in spiritual direction. Until we are willing to make the effort to change, pastoral counseling won’t help very much.
LET’S ASK SOME QUESTIONS OF THE TEXT
1. Who was accompanying Peter to the Temple?
2. Why were they going to the Temple?
3. At what hour of the day were they going to the Temple?
4. Who was at the Beautiful Gate asking for money?
5. How much did they give him?
6. What was the man’s name?
7. What did Peter ultimately offer the person?
8. What did the man do?
9. What was the response of the other people in the Temple?
LET’S ALLOW THE TEXT TO ASK SOME QUESTIONS OF US
1. What is your usual response to panhandlers?
2. What patterns of prayer do you practice in your life?
3. What is your most significant health challenge?
4. How does your spiritual life impact your health?
5. How important is it to you to make eye contact with other people?
6. Are there any people with whom you have difficulty making eye contact?
7. What are some of the ways the faith community can help bring healing to people?
8. What is the most significant miracle of healing you have witnessed?
9. What in your life would you like other people to pray for you?