Last week we the story was about Jesus appearing to the disciples and their witness to Jesus as he ascended into God’s kingdom. After Jesus disappears into God’s kingdom we have the story of Pentecost. This is the moment when God’ spirit comes to the disciples in wind and flame and they discover gifts and powers and languages they didn’t know the possessed. Last week I talked about Altered States of Consciousness. Pentecost is another example. Something strange and unusual was happened. It made sense to the people who were experiencing it and it was very real. To the outsiders, the disciples appeared drunk. The disciples insisted that what was happening we real and eventually they were able to convince the bystanders to join the Jesus movement.
Now, in this story, (Acts 3:1-10) these same disciples are able to heal and it is a dramatic healing. There is a man sitting outside the temple. He is reliant on others to carry him around. He isn’t allowed in the temple. He begs the people coming and going from the temple to feed him, to give him money. Sometimes, he gets lucky but most of the time people don’t even see him. Peter and John arrive at the temple and the man asks them—just like he asks everyone for alms—for food, for money.
They stop and look at him. They don’t avert their eyes and carry on. They don’t pretend that they can’t hear him asking for help. They look at him and actually see him: dirty, smelly, maybe with a few open wounds and broken teeth. They invite him to look back at them. In that gaze—something happens.
Peter doesn’t have food or money to give but he does have something more powerful. He has the ability to heal. Peter reaches out, takes the man by the hand and suddenly he is standing. He is standing for the first time ever. And then he jumps and walks and leaps. And where does he jump and walk and leap? Not outside the gate of the temple but inside the temple—probably the first time he had ever been allowed inside.
This man who had spent his whole life being an outsider is now suddenly allowed within the sacred walls of the temple. People who had never noticed him before suddenly recognized him. There is power in being seen and in being recognized. When the man was sitting outside the temple, he was just the man who sat outside and begged. He wasn’t part of the community. Most people wouldn’t have taken time to learn his name or to speak to him. He was always the outsider.
One of my field placements was in a safe shelter for women. On my first day there, at lunch time, I got my lunch and went and sat in the dining room with the women and children staying at the shelter. Within five minutes, one of the other staff members came and got me and brought me into the office. I thought maybe there was a staff meeting or something important I needed to learn. What they wanted me to learn was the proper boundary. There were the women and children (mostly Aboriginal) who were staying in the shelter and there were those who worked in the shelter. Eating a meal together was crossing a boundary that was often very uncomfortable—for me and for others.
As a newbie to that environment I wasn’t sure what to do. Should I eat my lunch in the office with the other staff members? After all we were all going to go home in a few hours and have a “normal” life outside the shelter. Should I cross the boundary and eat with the women and children that I was there to serve and care for? If I did that I might alienate the other staff members that I needed to learn from and who were going to be responsible for evaluating me. Eating separately made it easier to pretend that “they” are not like “us.”
Eating separately allowed myself and others to distance ourselves from the horror of the stories, from the reality that many people live with violence.
As I settled into the field placement and became more comfortable with the environment, I found myself eating more and more in the dining room with the women and children. What I found was that I heard stories I wouldn’t have otherwise heard. People shared themselves with me over a meal in a way that couldn’t happen by sitting in an office filling out forms.
These stories speak to how healing happens when we take time to see and listen to people who are invisible. I imagine Peter and John seeing the man outside the temple—really seeing him. The fact that they saw him and stopped to speak to him allowed him to be healed. But it wasn’t just a physical healing. Because they had seen him and listened to him he was now able to enter the temple—a place he had never been before. Because he could enter the temple, he could be seen by others. He was no longer the outsider. He was no longer just the beggar sitting outside the gate. He was the one jumping and walking and leaping. He was the one now leading praise to God.
Invisible people, like the man at the gate, exist all around us.
How can you see the invisible people in yourcongregation? How can you see the invisible people in your community? How can you see the invisible people around the world?