I was thinking recently about that well known passage in Acts 3 where Peter and John are on their way to worship at the temple only to be accosted at the entrance by a crippled man in need of help.
What this man wanted was not a religious formula or thought provoking meeting, but simply he wanted help for what had been his greatest need.
I thought about all the people who, like this beggar, struggle to see our services or hear our gospel because their need shouts louder. Until this man could see that this faith, this message, proclaimed by these apostles, could meet his disability, he wasn’t interested in it reaching his soul.
It is interesting to see just what Peter did not do in response to this beggars appeal. Peter did not begin to unpack the whole gospel message, taking the man through decades of prophetic witness and scriptural evidence. What they did do was address his need and apply everything they knew to everything this man truly cared about.
You’ve all heard of the graffiti message “Jesus is the Answer”, one time I heard that in one place someone had scribbled under it, “But what is the question?” I’ve often wondered which of the two are more revealing. I’ve been as guilty as the next person in answering all the questions my non-churched friends are not asking.
I, like Peter, have squatted down next to an equivalent beggar asking for silver and gold and explained the struggling economy, the inevitable consequence of cut-backs, and whether he knows that, despite this, Jesus could save his soul. It all sounds wonderfully correct, but it’s all just a long winded way of answering a question he’s not actually asking.
Peter’s answer on the other hand is quite insightful: “I have no silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you…” I love this. Peter could have lamented the fact that he didn’t have the relevant resource to help this man or even the correct knowledge to change his situation, but instead he used what he had.
If I am to make an impact on my community I must remember two key things.
First I must recognize that where I am is where God placed me. I’m not there by accident or default, neither am I there to simply carve out a successful and comfortable life for myself. Jesus said, “I am among you as one who serves” and such needs to become my own conviction and habit.
The second thing I need to remember if I am to make an impact on my community is that I have been given a unique set of skills. Impacting my community is not about trying to be what I’m not, or wishing I had more of this or less of that. But it’s about acknowledging what is in my hand, and then offering that to those around me with love, empathy, compassion and grace.
Have you ever thought of all the things Peter could have said but didn’t? He could have become quite arrogant and said, “Sorry sir, but I don’t actually believe in begging. People ought to work for what they get”. Or he could have taken a more diplomatic approach and said, “Sorry sir, but I don’t think I am qualified for this level of assistance, but I do know of a professional agency that might be of better help”. He could have chosen neither of these and become more introspective and said, “Sorry sir, but I’m not a great one with strangers, I find it very difficult to connect to new people, so I’m afraid I can’t really help you”.
It’s not that any of the above three are particularly wrong responses, they all have their context, but in the case of this beggar, they would all have been an adventure in missing the point. The man in Acts 3 wasn’t asking for Peter’s political persuasion or John’s social perspective. He wasn’t interested in cataloguing various agencies. And he especially wasn’t interested in hearing their confession of social awkwardness.
What he really needed, if I can put it bluntly, was for someone to actually give a rip! He needed one person to care enough to stop, listen and give what they could.
We are all susceptible to the danger of faith become too ‘me’ orientated; where it becomes simply about my faith, my quiet time, my church etc, we effectively privatize faith to a degree Jesus never intended. Peter and John still challenge us today. It’s seldom about how much you know or have, but about whether you care enough to notice, to stop, to become vulnerable, by allowing another–even a very different other–into your space.