“Perfect love drives out dear”. With what I am about to share combined with the recent death of Nelson Mandela, I hope to speak to two systems that are available to us in some way or another and the stark contrast they have for us who are the givers or receivers in their mindsets.
In Roman times if there was a recent conquest of territory then there would be a herald who would come into town and announce the new way of doing things with not the least of them being that you have to pay taxes. The power differential was huge for the hearer because of the fear that the herald and his crew represented. The new way of life is coming, it is Roman, and if you mess with them they have a cross picked out for you.
For the herald and his crew there were two things going for them: the evangelion and Civis Romansus. The evangelion was the imposing agenda of the empire, or the overarching new empirical truth. Civis Romanus was the calling card to not be messed with by “the local rabble” as an individual. There was a commonly told story that if a Roman citizen was surrounded by bandits he could just say “Civis Romanus!” and they would back off. That was how intimidating the empire was.
But in a backwater, conquered territory there came a carpenter from Palestine. An itinerant teacher of the Jewish Law who was crucified and some say rose from the dead. A few years after that a few ex-fishermen become heralds of this new evangelion. But they did not come to intimidate. They were there to serve, to love, to heal.
Acts 3:1 One day Peter and John were going up to the temple at the hour of prayer, at three o’clock in the afternoon. 2 And a man lame from birth was being carried in. People would lay him daily at the gate of the temple called the Beautiful Gate so that he could ask for alms from those entering the temple. 3 When he saw Peter and John about to go into the temple, he asked them for alms. 4 Peter looked intently at him, as did John, and said, “Look at us.” 5 And he fixed his attention on them, expecting to receive something from them. 6 But Peter said, “I have no silver or gold, but what I have I give you; in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth,[a] stand up and walk.” 7 And he took him by the right hand and raised him up; and immediately his feet and ankles were made strong. 8 Jumping up, he stood and began to walk, and he entered the temple with them, walking and leaping and praising God. 9 All the people saw him walking and praising God, 10 and they recognized him as the one who used to sit and ask for alms at the Beautiful Gate of the temple; and they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him.
There are several things to glean from this powerful story.
4 Peter looked intently at him, as did John, and said, “Look at us.”
Beggars in that day would not be encouraged to look up in a way that would be consistent with equality. After all, they or their parents sinned to be in that position. But instead of affirming to the man defeat, Peter and John affirmed dignity.
6 But Peter said, “I have no silver or gold, but what I have I give you; in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth,stand up and walk.”
Peter had gone through a lot of fire in his life. He knew what he was, and he knew what he was not. But most importantly, Peter knew who Jesus was and what He could do. After dignifying the lame man, he empowered him with the same power of Jesus that he had received.
And he took him by the right hand and raised him up
Peter in his interaction has progressed very quickly in this interaction from giving the man dignity, empowerment and relationship. I say relationship because to clasp hands like this implies symbolically or literally that this marginalized man has a place for dinner that night at a table. In a letter of Paul, he refers to meeting Peter, James and John with the extension of the “right hand of fellowship”.
So what do dignity, empowerment and relationship combine into? Salvation. I say this because Jesus was out to make sure people received salvation as a holistic experience. The word for saved is sozo, which means whole. “Call on the Lord and you will be saved.” Is said a lot. But when the woman was healed by touching the hem of Jesus’ garment, she was also sozo. Peter understood that he needed to give a holistic experience to than man because this was the nature of Jesus. As Paul would later write, “the gospel is the power of God unto salvation.” From Greek: evangelion, dunamis, sozo. That is to say that the good news of Jesus is the dynamite effect to wholeness to anyone who believes.