How do you react when you encounter someone on the street asking for money? What if that person is a “regular” who always seems to hang around the same places: the shopping center parking lot or the busy street corner?
Do encounters like this make you nervous? Do they make you guilty or self-conscious?
We can debate all day the wisdom of opening our wallets to such people. People have a right to be concerned about their personal safety. People want to disincentivize begging and demand that our society find better ways to address the needs of people in distress. So give, or don’t give, as your conscience leads. It’s a hard call, and I’m not going to judge you. I’m never sure I’m doing the right thing, either.
What we can’t debate is that even the most vulnerable among us are worthy of dignity. We don’t know what led them to be in such distress. We don’t know their stories or even their names.
And maybe that’s the point.
To me, the most challenging words in today’s text are, “Look at us” (Acts 3:4). Peter and John meet a lame beggar at the temple when they go there to pray. He has been there for many years; they had no doubt seen him at the temple before. For some reason, on this occasion the Holy Spirit inspires Peter to do something. The first thing he does is to make eye contact.
Whatever we think about our neighbors in distress, do we see them? Do we offer them a connection, a smile, a simple nod to acknowledge that they exist? Maybe the man at the gate had been objectified for so long that he never even looked up anymore at the people who tossed him their coins. It had become an empty transaction for both parties. Give the man a copper piece, listen to him say, “God bless you.”
Peter’s command “Look at us” changes that dynamic. Peter insists on seeing the person, not just his condition. And only then does he say, “In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, stand up and walk” (v. 6).
His body restored, the beggar enters the temple—something he’d been forbidden to do because his disability marked him as ceremonially unclean. The apostles’ welcome made it possible for the whole community to welcome him back into the fold. And he enters boldly and enthusiastically, walking and leaping and praising God.
A man is made whole, and the people who see his healing are filled with wonder.
That’s what happens when we see truly each other.
• What does Peter say and do that reminds you of how Jesus himself healed?
• How can we know that Peter and John genuinely care about the man rather than seeing him as merely a target of their ministry?
• What does it take for us to truly see someone for all they are?
• Peter prefaces his healing by saying, “I have no silver or gold” (v. 6). What might this tell us about the life of the early church?
• When is it risky to show compassion?
Darrell Pursiful is the editor of Formations. He is an adjunct professor at Mercer University and an active member of the First Baptist Church of Christ in Macon, Georgia.
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