What would you do if you were walking towards your church to attend worship and you saw the following scene unfold? Two men are walking toward the church to enter for prayer, and are addressed by a seated beggar who was obviously handicapped in some way. He is clearly asking for handouts, but one of the two men who have approached says, "I have neither silver nor gold, but what I do have I give you: in the name of Jesus Christ the Nazorean, rise and walk." Most of us would think that the man who said this is a bit insane. It is clear the beggar wants money and to offer something such as miraculous healing is the height of folly, if not a bit insulting to the beggar to make such a claim. But as you watch, the man who spoke, reaches down, raises the beggar up, and the man leaps up and walks all around, clearly healed!
For many of us, we would say that this would never happen or that only a charlatan would attempt to pull such a stunt. We might think that the beggar was probably a phony and that all three of the men were in on a scam. However, this is the story we read in the Acts of the Apostles which takes place just after Pentecost when the fully empowered apostles are beginning their ministry. In fact, the church is so new that beyond what happened on the day of Pentecost, they have not really done any ministry yet. It says Peter and John were going into the Temple to pray at the regular three o'clock prayer hour when they were confronted by the beggar. They had no intention of healing anyone or even attempting it until he asked them for money. But Peter not only had compassion on the poor, handicapped man, but he gave him something better than money; he gave him everything he had, which is the power of faith and healing. Another way to put this is that Peter utilized the gifts he had been given.
It takes tremendous courage to say to someone in a crowded plaza that you can offer them healing. It also takes tremendous humility. First, it is humbling to honestly say one has little or no money to offer to a beggar: it was difficult to look at one less fortunate than they were and say ‘we cannot give you what you ask.’ But it takes humility to offer something even more valuable than money; something which requires faith to receive it. In other words, they needed something from the man to give him what they could. They needed his faith, or the healing would never have taken place. In some ways, they were more dependent on what he could give than what they had to offer!
No one can force God's gifts upon us, not even God dares to do that. All graces are freely given to us and we freely accept (or deny) them. I am not sure we ever think about the fact that when God offers us something we have to offer something back to Him to make it work at all. What we offer back is our faith in the gift He gives. We offer back our love to His love. And hopefully we offer back our gratitude when we have received the gift.
For the apostles, it took great trust that they could elicit the faith of the beggar in order for the power of God working through them to be effective. Peter and John were arrested right after they healed the beggar because the authorities were threatened by their presence and their power. "Oh no," they must have thought, "we just got rid of that pesky Jesus and now His followers are going to stir things up again." In the end, however, the authorities feared the crowds and let Peter and John go free. As for Peter and John, they remained humble and praised God for what He had done; but in healing one man, thousands became believers.
As we continue through the Acts we see scene after scene of the apostles offering healing, bringing a few people back from death, and sharing the Good News everywhere they went. They trusted in the power with which Jesus ordained them when He sent them forth early on in their following, when He breathed on them after His resurrection, and when the Holy Spirit filled them. While most of us are not ordained we, too, have a mission for which we have been empowered. We have been baptized and confirmed into the faith, just as all the original followers of Jesus were. At baptism we are all given a priestly role. We are part of the common priesthood, which means we, too, are empowered to call people to their faith, just as the apostles did. While the ordained have other powers and are called to a different way of ministering which is very important, that does not mean they are the only ones called. (We need more priests, and that is part of our ministry, too: We have to call them forth!!)
Some of us may ask: "What makes me think I can heal anyone, or that I can raise someone back to life?" I would say that with the gifts of faith, hope, and love which we receive at Baptism, we are not only called to do that, but we can indeed do it. Every time we meet a downtrodden person, one who is crippled by fear, hurt, loneliness, bullying, betrayal, illness, or grief and we share our acceptance and love with them, we are offering healing. Every time we say, "I forgive you," or "Please forgive me", followed by "I accept your forgiveness," we are healing another person. Every time we give someone a new chance at life, an opportunity to get ahead and out of the pit of despair because they cannot find a job or a friend, we are healing them and raising them to new life. We are called to bring life where there is none, and we are called to bring healing where there is brokenness and hurt. That is what Jesus did, it is what Peter and John (and the other apostles) did and it is what every Christian should do.
Pope Francis is calling us to return to being more like Christ. He is not saying we should stop studying theology and being intellectual about our faith. But he is saying that we cannot do that without living it. All the knowledge in the world will not build the Kingdom or make us holy. It is putting it into action that makes us like Christ. It is for this that we are baptized and confirmed. And it is Eucharist that keeps the love-energy and grace flowing within us.
Pope Francis has caught the eye of the world, and not just because he is a new pope, and therefore a novelty. It is because he is a servant of the people and he has a heart for the people. His call is to be mindful of the poor and downtrodden; it is of humble service and to love like Christ loves. Pope Francis is clearly very humble. He does not go for external trappings and a lot of fanfare. Instead he reaches out and touches people, both physically and spiritually. He preaches and lives nothing less than the gospel.
Let us put our baptismal call into action in a new way. Let us be renewed by the vigor and joy of the Easter season and the wonderful liturgies we celebrate, living humbly, but acting boldly. That is, we can boldly live our faith and hope by believing in the power given to us in the sacraments and then calling forth that power to put it into use. But we use it humbly in service, letting love be our guide. We humble ourselves by not only believing, but by depending on the faith and acceptance of those to whom we minister, no matter how weak they may be. We may need to empower them by our witness, so that they can believe at all. Who knows? The person we reach out to may be Christ in disguise!
May we trust in the power of our own Baptism and Confirmation to use the gifts of the Holy Spirit we have been given! May we have the humility to trust both in God and in the gifts given, to use them as Jesus would have us do! May we have the humility to accept the people to whom we are called to reach out and to accept their gift of trust as well! May we follow the example of the apostles and of our pope to reach out to all those to whom we come in contact with love and sensitivity. Let us continue to meet in the Heart of our Risen Lord, joyfully bringing our gifts of faith, hope, and love back to Him in gratitude! Peace!
The top photo is one of mine. It was taken in Dublin, Ireland.
The second and third are icons by Rev. William Hart McNichols. The first is The Chair of St. Peter and is found at http://www.standreirublevicons.com/gallery.php?action=viewPicture&id=396&gall_id=18
and the one at the end is St. John the Apostle which is found at
Heart Speaks to Heart