In Acts 3, the story is told of God’s mercy, through Peter and John, to a fortysomething man who has been parked outside the temple gate for years to beg. He is crippled, which means he can’t go in any further because of laws about physical condition, and for the past two years he has not come to the attention of Jesus, who on many occasions must have gone into the temple courts either to teach or to throw tables around. How disappointed must this guy have been? There is no record of him asking for healing and in Acts 3, he only asks for money, not healing. Jesus had been walking around Israel, through walls and such like, for forty days after his resurrection. Did this man see him then? Did he know anything about the story of Easter? It got me thinking that we see the cross as some kind of huge hiatus, rather than a physical event amongst real people. Paul, presumably, was well aware of Jesus’ actions long before we hear of him. Was he ever among those who engaged Jesus in debate as a pharisee, and got the thick edge of Jesus’ repartee? The cross as the centre of history, though important theologically, is a later construct that can get in the way of how we see the continuity between the three years of Jesus’ public ministry and the birth of the early church. Someone should have got hold of Luke and said, listen, split your volume after Pentecost, or before the last supper or something, so we can read the story as a story and not get into this cosmological soup that we evangelicals have placed at the cross “watershed”.
Thinking about the man at the Gate Beautiful brings us to all sorts of other considerations. Did he know the story of the bloke in John 9 who had a run-in with the Sanhedrin? And did all these stories have an impact on his expectations? Of course they did. To hear about a miracle healer, and actually be at the gate where he was on the way into the city, and then get ignored: how rubbish is that? Suppose he had heard of those times when Jesus was in Capernaum where Luke tells us that all who came to him were healed?
What I love about his eventual healing is that the guy didn’t go home and tell everyone that he had been healed, but went into the courts of the temple, where for years he had been excluded because of his condition and walked around (not quietly, it appears)as a prophetic witness of God’s great inclusive love for an outcast, and therefore to all outcasts. God had accepted and healed him, and so the longing to be in amongst his people, fully restored, was fulfilled, because of Jesus acting through obedient disciples.
A friend of mine in Witney says “because we are a church school, we are therefore inclusive”! So many seem to think differently about church schools, including (unfortunately) some church schools. We include everyone here because Jesus sat with whoever came along and accepted them, seeking to save the lost, in whatever condition he found them.