< April 22, 2012 >

Commentary on Acts 3:12-19

 

In Acts, the apostles perform miracles by the power of the God of the living, the one who created the world.

Peter's words, "Why do you marvel at this or why do you stare at us as if by our own power or religiosity we have caused him to walk?" (3:12) are indicative of the apostles' continued attempts to deflect praise from themselves and onto God as the source of miracles. The miracle that Peter and John perform is very similar to, but precedes, the story of Paul and Barnabas in Lystra. Paul and Barnabas had healed a man who had been born crippled (13:8). The man's faith in Jesus prompts Paul to stare at (atenizō) and heal him.

Consequently, the Lycaonians declare that the gods, Hermes and Zeus, have visited them in human form, namely as Paul and Barnabas (13:11-12). The ancients knew the names of the gods, and they believed that humans could take on the form of the gods or be inhabited by them. Paul and Barnabas, like Peter and John in our text, reject this interpretation of the events and the peoples' subsequent attempt to worship them. 

As Peter and John enter the Temple through the gate called Beautiful, they notice a man lying at the door of God's house. And yet this man never experienced God's healing power before that day. The man has no new words but recites his usual request for alms. His voice diminished and flattened over the years, drowned out by the sound of feet moving back and forth over the threshold, in and out of God's presence, people participating in rituals symbolical of restoration. But this man crippled from birth will find wholeness on the outside of the God's house. "God's house" is an incomplete and imperfect metaphor for how, when and where God visits; it is neither a boundary circumscribing God nor a barrier to God's power. Stephen testified that the Most High God does not live in buildings, 7:48.

A particular Greek verb describes the interaction between the apostles and the lame man and between the apostles and the people. Peter and John stared (atenizō) at the lame man (3:4). And Paul gazed (atenizō) at the man he healed, as noted above. Peter and John's gaze at the man anticipates God's healing of the man from a birth defect. He had never known life from the position of his feet, but only from the ground up. Peter and John took his hands and raised (egeirō) him up. God raised (egeirō) Jesus. The man danced and strutted demonstrating how life flowed through his limbs (3:7-8).

This is why the people (laos) marveled and stared intently (atenizō) at Peter and John, 3:12. The lame man stared because he expected no more from Peter and Paul than he had gotten (or not gotten) from others going to God's Temple. The people stared at Peter and Paul not having anticipated or imagined God healing the man.

"Why do you stare at us as if we caused him to walk by our own power or religiosity?" This is a strategic question creating an opportunity for Peter to testify about what God did in Jesus. The mention of God in connection with Moses, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob would be familiar to Peter's Jewish audience (who constitute the people or laos of God, verse 12) and provides a historical frame of reference. This was the name YHWH gave to Moses (Exodus 3:15). What God did through Moses, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is that which gives imaginable substance to God's name. What God did through the patriarchs (and matriarchs) translates God's name into human language. The black slaves sang, "Didn't my Lord deliver Daniel, then why not deliver poor me." This invoking of names in relation to divine deliverance constitutes a hermeneutics of historical memory based on God's extraordinary intervention in human lives and predicaments. This God raised and "glorified his servant (pais) Jesus," 3:13. 

The idea of God having a servant is not novel. God chose and anointed servants/ministers like Moses, King David, King Cyrus, and others to perform the unimaginable, breaking human oppressions and establishing divine precedents. Jesus was God's servant and child (pais), a human instrument anointed and chosen by God (3:19). The story of YHWH choosing, anointing and exalting his servant is nothing new; it is well known throughout the Scriptures (Isaiah 52:13). The murder of God's servant was no surprise; it was expected according to the prophets.

God's anointed one would suffer. But this pais named Jesus, God raised up from among those servants whose bones remained buried. Even David's body decayed in the grave (13:36-37).  It was the author of life (archēgon) that was murdered and buried. How can the murdered servant/child (pais) be the "author of life"? What a paradox. A child is by nature not the author of life but the recipient of life from his parents. God gave Jesus life and brought Jesus to life. It is God's glorification and/or raising of Jesus that makes him the "author of life." Because God raised Jesus, God has authored a new story. Consequently, our stories can be rewritten, revised, and told from a new point of view, because of the power of God who resurrects. Through the name of Jesus whom God raised up, Peter and Paul raised up the lame man giving him a new "Once upon a time."

The one whose life was swapped for that of a murderer, God determined to be holy and just. God reversed the actions of human beings. The life they took was the life God raised. If God can repeal death, surely God can reverse a man's birth defect. Of these great reversals, the apostles are witnesses. And their witness is not just rhetorical; their testimony is wrapped up in human flesh once lame. They are actively lifting up people. We obviously should not neglect to share our "silver and gold" with others in need, as demonstrated by the communal sharing in Acts (2:45). But we need also seize opportunities to stop and gaze into human eyes sharing the human touch by which God might restore a human life and record on the history books a new "once upon a time."