“Now Peter and John were going up to the temple at the hour of prayer, the ninth hour. And a man lame from birth was being carried, whom they laid daily at the gate of the temple that is called the Beautiful Gate to ask alms of those entering the temple. Seeing Peter and John about to go into the temple, he asked to receive alms. And Peter directed his gaze at him, as did John, and said, “Look at us.” And he fixed his attention on them, expecting to receive something from them. But Peter said, “I have no silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!” And he took him by the right hand and raised him up, and immediately his feet and ankles were made strong. And leaping up he stood and began to walk, and entered the temple with them, walking and leaping and praising God. And all the people saw him walking and praising God, and recognized him as the one who sat at the Beautiful Gate of the temple, asking for alms. And they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him.” – Acts 3.1-10 [ESV]
The world is pretty upset with the church. And rightfully so, don’t you think? For the most part, we come across as powerless, hypocritical, clique-ish windbags who are mad at the world for not embracing our values. Many of our ilk have decided that the remedy to this fairly obvious disaster that is the American church has been to “listen” to our communities and respond accordingly. There certainly is something to be said for the humility required to honestly take criticism and learn from it. We all want to embrace that quality and the Scriptures certainly do seem to endorse both humility and the pursuit of wisdom. But herein lies the problem, the world expects far too little of the followers of Jesus!
In Acts 3, we find a man, a lame beggar, whose lifetime of interacting with God’s people had shaped his expectations of them. Today’s media (television, radio, print, etc.) has definitely made the church a presence in the culture. Now, it may be a peripheral, much-maligned presence, but we’re around nonetheless. Our culture is much like the lame beggar of Acts 3, looking for us to bless them in the limited (handicapped?) humanness they call a normal life. Problem is, the church has failed to meet this expectation. They’re upset because they’ve been looking at us, “expecting to receive something” and all they’ve gotten is condescension.
The solution here is not to give the world what it expects, because its expectations are deeply flawed. Giving alms to a beggar isn’t wrong per se, but it can be if it simply serves to boost the giver’s sense of morality and numb the beggar’s desire to rise above his condition. No, Peter and John understood that they were dealing in Kingdom currency. The followers of Christ do not offer the world mere “charity” (in the soup kitchen sense, although we probably need more soup kitchens!) or humanitarian aid. We’re not called to help people improve their humanity, but extend to them an altogether new humanness that can only be found in “Jesus Christ of Nazareth”! Abundant life is not an improvement of life as we know, but the abandonment of that life in exchange for an entirely new reality under the rule of God.
Let’s not try to be the church that the world is expecting, and surrender as living stones in the church that Jesus is building, because as C.S. Lewis so profoundly said, “we are far too easily pleased.” (The Weight of Glory)