I’ve been reading the Book of Acts recently. I keep thinking about what the late F. F. Bruce said regarding the healing of a cripple by Peter and John in Acts 3:4–6.
According to Cornelius a Lapide, Thomas Aquinas once called on Pope Innocent II when the latter was counting out a large sum of money. “You see, Thomas,” said the Pope, “the church can no longer say, ‘Silver and gold have I none.’” “True, holy father,” was the reply; “neither can she now say, ‘Rise and walk.’”
Cited by F. F. Bruce, The Book of Acts, Revised Edition (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1988), 77–78.
F. F. Bruce did not write this with an anti-Catholic sentiment, for he goes on to say that the “moral of this tale may be pondered by any Christian body that enjoys a fair degree of temporal prosperity.” (page 78)
We should be able to detect the difference between the disciples of Jesus and the religious authority of their day. Acts 4:1–2 says,
The priests and the captain of the temple guard and the Sadducees came up to Peter and John while they were speaking to the people. They were greatly disturbed because the apostles were teaching the people, proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection of the dead.
Instead of seeing the healing of the lame person as an act of kindness and praise God for his goodness (4:9), the priests and the leaders saw it as a threat—apparently because it served as a demonstration of the validity of the apostles’ message that Jesus had been raised from the dead.
There is no doubt that the healing of the lame and the message of Jesus’ death and resurrection are at the centre of the narrative in Acts 3–4. It is also clear that the crippled person had lived in poverty and belonged to the lower end of the social spectrum (3:2). This means that God’s deliverance included the inclusion of the man into his eschatological people—that is, a Christ-community consisting of people from all walks of life, not least the poor and needy. In addition, it is quite clear that the resistance of the message of salvation and deliverance came from those in positions of power and influence.
The question for us today, then, is whether our mission and message centre around the same ministry and message of the earliest church found in Acts. For many of us (not all of us) in the West, we can no longer say “silver and gold have I none,” given the material possessions we hold individually and collectively in our churches. I wonder how we can truly embody the narrative of Acts 3–4 in our lives? How can we minister God’s grace and kindness from a position of limited economic resource and low social status, just like Peter and John? And, do we unwittingly act like the religious leaders in their day? Do we rejoice with those who walk with the poor and see their life and work as a demonstration of Jesus’ death and resurrection? Or do we see their work as some kind of second-rate ministry that are relatively unimportant? Do we see the proclamation of Jesus’ death and resurrection and the formation of a Christ-community as our mission? Or do we focus too much on ensuring that our systems and programs run smoothly, and have lost sight of what we are called to do as disciples of Jesus?
A lot to ponder, I suppose…