Monday, June 1, 2009

an attentive church

“Peter looked intently at him, as did John, and said ‘Look at us.’ And he fixed his attention on them.” – Acts 3: 4-5

It’s 3 PM and Peter and John are en route to the temple. It’s their afternoon “prayer time.” And as they enter the temple gate, the hand of a lame beggar reaches up in search of a handout. I doubt the cripple expects much. After all, the predominant worldview of his time understood sickness as God’s punishment on the unrighteous. And so the gate of the temple wasn’t the best spot to beg. Most Jews thought the lame man was being punished. And who dares interfere with the judgment of God? The lame beggar needed better advisors.

Nevertheless, the lame man begged – day after day, year after year – his head to the ground, “expecting to receive something” (2:5). And from time to time he’d get lucky – a coin here, a piece of bread there. But I imagine that’s about as good as it got for a cripple like him. A coin here, a piece of bread there – but did anyone ever stop? Acknowledge him? Touch him? Listen to him? Look at him?

I imagine that Peter and John were among the first. Luke tells us that “Peter looked intently at him, as did John.” They acknowledged him, touched him, and looked intently at him. And as a result, the lame man “fixed his attention on them.” The apostles looked at the lame man. The lame man looked at the apostles. Both were attentive to one another.

Think about this story the next time you walk into a convenience store and pass a beggar. Think about this story the next time you’re at a red light and the man at the corner, cigarette dangling from his lips, displays a cardboard sign. Think about this story the next time you’re talking to a friend – the one with the awkward family situation – and you’re tempted to not mention the 2000 lb. gorilla – to just “pass by” the subject in the name of being “polite.”

It can be hard to “look intently” at the brokenness of our world – to “fix our attention” on situations and people that are messy and confusing and potentially scandalous. But faithfulness to the Gospel demands that we look intently.

You see, in the eyes of God, we are the cripple in today’s story. That’s the miracle of grace. God didn’t “pass us by.” He stopped. He acknowledged. He touched. He listened. He looked at us. And he became human in the person of Jesus of Nazareth so that he could do all these things fully.

After all, salvation begins with sight. Think of the Exodus. “I have seen the misery of my people,” and because of that, “I know their sufferings” (Ex 3:7). Or ponder the cross. “When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem” (Lk 9:51). If we are to be the church, we must be attentive – we must be ready to look intently at the last and the least so that God’s kingdom might advance.

“Cripples” are everywhere. Some wear rags, others don suits. Do you see them? And our call as the church isn’t merely to extend a hand-out. No. Our call is to live our lives with hands extended out. “And Peter took him by the hand and raised him up; and immediately his feet and ankles were made strong.” (2:7)

“The eyes of the Lord range throughout the entire earth.” (2 Chron 16:9) Our God looks intently. As adopted children, we must do the same.

1 comment:

KAM said...

You're very thoughtful about what it means/how to live as a Christian in this world. I am not. I could benefit from reading Scripture with an eye for application. After all, salvation begins with sight.