As with so much in the Bible, the story is more radical than we first think. I’m excited by the simple prayer and miracle leading to gospel preaching, but there is much here that is even more radical.
This healed beggar enters the temple. That’s a big deal. The Old Testament law strictly prohibited the offering of lame or otherwise blemished animals in sacrifices. Lame and otherwise disabled people couldn’t serve as priests either (Leviticus 21:16-24; Deuteronomy 15:21). So crippled people came to be stigmatised as “dead dogs” like Mephibosheth in 2 Sam 9:8. They were like the poor, the blind and the deaf: social and religious outcasts.
Luke shows us that Jesus taught they are worthy of honour, compassion and fellowship in God’s household. Peter and John have grasped this so, when the lame man gets their attention, they are ready to honour and bless this dear person, created in the image of God and “sozo” him. Sozo is a Greek word, usually translated save, but also means heal and deliver.
The contrast of a poor beggar sitting outside the ostentatious Beautiful Gate of the temple at the hour of prayer, when he is not welcome, is stark. The temple system of Jesus’ day exploited the poor while masquerading as a place of prayer and channel of God’s mercy. This poor man’s daily begging outside the temple’s Beautiful Gate has been an exercise in futility.
He gets healed and is leaping and praising God inside the temple gates – remember the Sunday school song? I love the word leaping, it’s so full of joy and it picks up on Isaiah 35:6 “then shall the lame man leap like a deer”. The ostracised man who wasn’t welcome to serve is saved, healed and delivered and leaping for joy where he previously wasn’t welcome.
That caused awe and wonder! The people were utterly astonished and ran to Peter and John. Once again they point to Jesus, who “you killed” and is now risen. “Repent … so your sins can be blotted out and times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord.” Peter backs up his argument, telling the hearers that Moses and the prophets prophesied about Jesus, who is the fulfilment of the promises to Abraham.
What do we do with today’s reading? Why don’t you pray for the next disabled person or beggar that you see? Is that challenging enough?!