Read the passage here: Acts 3:1-26
In the previous reading Luke gives a summary of the early church’s activities in Jerusalem (2:42-47): devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, common life together, sharing meals, and prayers…spending time in the Temple. Now we get our first glimpse into the experiences of the early believers at the Temple.
Peter and John make their way to the Temple at the regular time for afternoon prayers. Those first believers continued to consider themselves as Jewish, without any intentions of separating from the faith, and so we see them practicing their faith.
Outside the Temple, at the Beautiful Gate, they encounter a man, lame from birth, sitting outside the gate begging from people about to enter the Temple. The irony in this scene is unmistakable. A poor lame man, struggles to make a living from devote worshippers in front of an elaborately adorned entrance to the Temple. In both Luke and Acts there is a strong critique of the prominent religious institutions exploiting the poor while disregarding their needs.
This is a theme prominent in the Hebrew Scriptures as well, and we see Jesus’ dislike of the economic base of the Temple in his driving out of the sellers of goods and connecting the situation with the words of the prophet Jeremiah, saying, “It is written, ‘My house shall be a house of prayer,’ but you have made it a den of robbers.” (Luke 19:45) Later at the Temple again, he will indict the religious leaders for attending to economic issues at the expense of the poor saying of the religious scribes, “They devour widows’ houses and for the sake of appearances say long prayers.” (Luke 20:47)
Peter and John heal the man and a commotion results. Peter speaks up to offer an explanation for what has just happened. It is the name of Jesus that has healed this man and sent him walking, leaping, and praising God as he enters the Temple. BTW, the lame leaping like a deer is a sign of the restoration of Israel in the prophet Isaiah (Is. 35:6).
Peter’s sermon in the Temple has harsh tones, but is tempered with opportunities for redemption. Placed alongside Jesus’ encounters with the religious folk in Luke 19-21, however, Peter’s words don’t seem quite so tough. Foretelling the destruction of Jerusalem Jesus says, “But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation has come near…and Jerusalem will be trampled underfoot by the Gentiles…”
Despite Peter’s impassioned sermon, I am still drawn to the poor man sitting outside the Beautiful Gate of the Temple being passed by all of the worshippers.
Whom do we walk by on our way to worship?
In what ways do our religious institutions continue to exploit the poor while mouthing moral platitudes?
It seems ancient texts still have much to say to us…