At the big intersection near my home, four gentlemen have divided up the corners. In their system, each of them asks for money on only one corner. Three of the four work their corners most days, but even when someone is missing for a day, no one takes over his corner. Each man works a full day on his corner, waving and asking for small amounts of money. Their days are longer than mine, and I admire their work ethic. Each trip through the intersection makes me wonder again what my responsibility to these men is. Money? A prayer? Nothing?
Peter and John may be wondering the same thing, as they hear this man call to them at the gate of the temple.
Read the scripture.
Read the Working Preacher Commentary.
The man with the disability may be disappointed in Peter and John, for the first few moments of their interaction. He’s expecting alms, and for a moment, it looks like he’s going to get a lecture instead of anything useful. The story is short on emotional content, which makes me wonder if Peter and John have a moment of doubt about their own capabilities, before they offer healing, in Jesus’ name, to this man. When Peter looks intently at the man, is he praying? Doubting himself again? Wondering if what Jesus told them is true, and they can use his power for other people?
The story makes an interesting note that this happens at three o’clock in the afternoon. This is the hour of Jesus’ death, when he gives up his spirit, and now that same spirit continues to have power in the world. It has traveled out from Jesus and works through the people who loved him. Is Peter recalling that, as he looks into the man’s eyes?
This story is such a perfect mirror for our churches right now, where we are offering what we have in the name of Jesus. We have that moment every week, before worship on Zoom or You Tube, when we look into each other’s eyes and experience…doubt about the quality of the camera work? Worry about the quality of the sermon? A moment of concern about how our hair looks? And then we go ahead and offer what we have to give. The sermon might also delve into how others are giving what they have to share: retired nurses and doctors coming to work in areas of need, teachers helping parents do school from home, people giving to help those who are laid off.
The man’s first actions, once he’s healed, are to leap and walk and praise God. He comes into the temple to give his praise. The sermon might explore how we react to gifts from God. Do we have the same joyful praise as this man, or do we skip over thanksgiving to pray for the next item on the list? Do we notice the gifts we’re given? A colleague once took a small notebook out of his shirt pocket, and showed me how he kept track of answered prayers so he could continue to be thankful for them over and over again. His example helped me be more mindful of how many prayers are answered, and reminded me how little time I spend absorbed in gratitude.
The people outside the temple gate recognize the man, once he’s healed. The sermon might also ponder how we learn to see people in fresh ways, once they make a substantial life change. When someone recovers from substance abuse or an eating disorder, when they leave an abusive relationship, when they speak a different version of themselves to us, how do we take in their new being, and honor that?
Or the sermon might think about how we decide what we owe to one another. What is my obligation, as a neighbor, to the gentlemen asking for money on the road I drive daily? For now, I’ve decided that they’re my people, and I give whenever I see them, but I only give to the street corner entrepreneurs at that particular corner. How do we decide these questions of giving and community?
Where are you offering whatever you have to give right now? Where are your thoughts taking you this Sunday? We would love to hear, and to continue the conversation, in the comments section below.
Mary Austin is the Pastor of Gaithersburg Presbyterian Church, in the Washington, DC area, where the members come from over 30 countries. She is a contributor to The Road to Hallelujah and the author of Meeting God at the Mall. The image above is by Michael Pratt, copyright 2020, used with permission.
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