As Peter and John were headed to the temple, they encountered a man with a physical problem that he’d had since birth (Acts 3:1-2). Every day someone took him to the temple gate where he begged everyday. That “someone” seemed to think that was the best that could be done for the man. The person helped him “manage” to get through life. The man sought assistance from others that would get him through the day and meet his short-term needs to get him through again in order to do it all over the next day.
“When he saw Peter and John about to enter, he asked them for money” (v. 3). Peter and John broke into this man’s cycle and changed everything.
“Peter LOOKED straight at him, as did John…” (v. 4). Who knows whether this man ever got any eye contact from others?! How many times do people see someone panhandling and try hard not to see him or her? However, in this situation, on that day for this man, two people “looked straight at him.”
“…then Peter SAID, ‘Look at us!’” (v. 4). They not only gave him eye contact, but they SPOKE to him as well.
“So the man gave them his attention, expecting to get something from them” (v. 5). Still in his usual frame of mind, he was looking for what he’d always been looking—something to get him by for that day, his short-term needs.
“Then Peter said, ‘Silver or gold I do not have, but what I have I GIVE you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk’” (v. 6). Peter didn’t worry about not having that for which the man was asking. In fact, Peter chose to give what would have a long-term effect on the man’s life—in this case, an eternal power entered a finite moment and brought physical change.
“TAKING him BY the right HAND, he helped him up, and instantly the man’s feet and ankles became strong. He jumped to his feet and began to walk” (v. 7-8). In Peter’s interactions with this man, he touched the man—another possible rarity in this formerly invalid man’s life (aside from whoever took him to the gate daily). How easy it can be to avoid offering the simple act of touch to others, especially to those most in need among us.
“… Then he went WITH THEM into the temple courts, walking and jumping, and praising God” (v. 8). This man hung out with Peter and John, getting a bit of social life. From what we read about the man, this may have been one of those very rare moments in his life when someone welcomed his company. They even were okay with him touching them: “While the beggar held onto Peter and John…” (v. 11).
“When all the people saw him walking and praising God, they recognized him as the same man who sued to sit begging at the temple gate called Beautiful, and they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him….all the people were astonished and came running to them in the place called Solomon’s Colonade…” (v. 9-11).
The gift that was given to this man that affected his long-term needs also affected the entire community. No donation given to him on any of those other day-after-days to meet his short-term needs had such a widespread impact on the community.
Consider how this man’s life and community were affected by the choice of two men who gave from the resources to which they had access to meet his long-term needs. His physical health was the most obvious effect. Yet, his emotional and mental health were improved through the way Peter and John looked at, spoke to, touched, and spent time with him—boosting his value and affirmation. His social health surely saw improvement with that time spent with them too.
The community saw the change in him. They were in awe and amazement. Peter and John took the opportunity to sue what happened as a teachable moment, explaining God’s role in what had happened and tying it into their own eternal needs. Even though the two of them were put in jail later by the temple leaders, “many who heard the message believed” (4:4).
Often, it can seem so much easier to accept the way things are and never wonder what could be better if something were done differently. Those who took the man to the gate daily were only seeing his symptoms, his current situation. Peter and John looked at the root cause of his begging and did what it took to set him on a new course toward ending his crippling condition. They didn’t just do a little something to feel like they helped at least in some way; they made a big something that had far-reaching results.
When it comes to addressing big issues in our communities like poverty and homelessness, will we do things that allow us to “manage” the problems and feel like we’ve at least done something? Or, will we examine the root causes—the entire gamut, not just the typically attributed—and seek ways to work together to “end” homelessness and poverty?
“The church that develops long-term, trusting relationships with the community is the one that has an opportunity to influence its culture. The most effective way to do that seems to be in the context of serving. In meeting the needs of others and serving alongside them, we cannot help but create relationship. Relationship is key to building bridges into the community.”
“…poverty and despair can become so internalized that it can take generations to heal. There is a family…with four children… No member of this family has had a meaningful job for two generations, and both parents and some grandparents have been in and out of jail. Getting a minimum wage job will not fix this. Just giving them enough to keep starvation at bay is not enough. Poverty is not just a lack of cash, medicine, or technology. It is also about the confidence, skills, and belief that people can use what they have for the community’s good. Surely poverty is as much about identity, meaning, and belonging as material goods. Surely God’s hope needs to be involved to change the world and rid it of poverty.”
– Ash Barker, Make Poverty Personal