Third Sunday of Easter (Year B)

When the risen Jesus was exalted to God’s right hand, he poured out the Holy Spirit upon the early believers at Pentecost.

April 26, 2009

First Reading
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Commentary on Acts 3:12-19

When the risen Jesus was exalted to God’s right hand, he poured out the Holy Spirit upon the early believers at Pentecost.

The dynamic result included, among other things, that “many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles” in Jesus’ name (Acts 2:42). The same Divine Spirit that animated Jesus to do God’s work of healing and liberation now lives within his followers, enabling them to carry on Jesus’ mission–or, more accurately, to mediate Christ’s life–giving power in the world.

The first reported resurrection “sign” involves the healing of a forty-something man who had been lame from birth (Acts 3:2; 4:22).

As Peter and John enter the temple area for prayer for one day, they meet this disabled man begging for alms by the Beautiful Gate. Only instead of giving him money (which they don’t have), Peter offers him something much better. Announcing, “In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up (egeire) and walk,” he takes the man’s hand and “raises (egeiren) him up” (3:6-7).

The response is even more dramatic than expected. Not only does the congenital cripple stand and walk; he also hops us, goes into the temple precincts with Peter and John on his own two feet, and proceeds to leap about “praising God” (3:7-8).

Our text begins with the temple audience’s reaction to this extraordinary event. They rush together in amazement, converging on the healed man who, now in shock and awe himself, is huddled around Peter and John.

The spellbound crowd fixes its gaze, however, not on the restored man, but on the miracle-working apostles. The verb describing their rapt focus on Peter and John (atenizō, 3:12) previously characterized Peter’s “looking intently” at the lame beggar before raising him up (3:4). The term is commonly used in Acts for an almost trance-like encounter with transcendent glory (see 1:10; 3:4, 12; 6:15; 7:55; etc.).

In the present case, while the man’s healing certainly marks an attention-grabbing manifestation of supernatural power, Peter insists that such attention be properly directed, meaning not toward him and John.

He implores the crowd: “Why do you wonder at this, or why do you stare (atenizete) at us, as though by our own power or piety we had made him walk?” (3:12). In short, we are not the story here. And for that matter, neither really is the restored cripple – he’ll happily take his healing and forego the headline.

So then, who is responsible for this miraculous deed? No one less than God, Peter makes clear, and follows up with expounding just who this God is.

First, this is not some newly discovered deity or spiritual force. The venerable God of Israel–the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob–remains at work here, restoring God’s people to wholeness (3:13).

During this lectionary period, readings from Acts “replace” Old Testament selections, but fortunately, Acts consistently reminds us of the early church’s deep roots in ancient Israel’s faith and scripture. The fact that Jesus’ followers continue to pray and worship at the Jerusalem temple (2:46; 3:1; 5:42) confirms their devotion to Israel’s Creator-Redeemer God.

It comes as no surprise, then, that in the temple area Peter gives God full credit for healing the lame man, just as the man himself did, leaping about and “praising God.” Somewhat ironically, the same God who “blessed” Jacob (Israel) by dislocating his hip, causing him to limp thereafter (Genesis 32:24-31), now strengthens the feet and ankles of a lifelong paralytic. As God’s people, we walk and wrestle with God on a miraculous and mysterious journey.

Second, Peter announces that the God of Israel is also the God of Jesus–God’s “Servant/Child (pais), who lived on earth in the closest possible union with God as “the Holy and Righteous One” and “Author of life” (Acts 3:13-15).

This cluster of notable names for Jesus, stressing his faithful service, just character, and life-giving power, magnifies his reprehensible rejection (in favor of a “murderer”–Barabbas) and crucifixion by hostile forces. Can one imagine a starker contrast or more heinous crime than “killing the Author of life?”

God cannot tolerate such a travesty of justice, and so God responds, not by punishing Jesus’ killers, but by raising (egeirō, 3:15) Jesus from the dead and renewing God’s indomitable commitment to life in Jesus’ name.

Accordingly, on the basis of this strong, authorial (life-giving) name, God strengthens the limp limbs of the lame man. As God raised Jesus, so God, through the apostles, raises the lame man in Jesus’ name (egeirō, 3:6, 12). God is the faithful God of Resurrection.

Finally, our text returns to Old Testament theology. The God of the patriarchs and Jesus is also the God of the prophets, who previewed God’s purpose to redeem God’s suffering people through a suffering Messiah (3:18).

All along God has come to Israel in the midst of her struggles. Now, in the crucified-resurrected Messiah Jesus, God has entered into the pain of Israel and the world to the fullest extent and prepared the way for final deliverance. Although Acts cites no particular prophetic texts God has “fulfilled” in the present story, it’s hard not to imagine Isaiah 35 ringing in the background:

“Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees.
Say to those who are of a fearful heart, ‘Be strong, do not fear!
Here is your God. …He will come and save you.’
Then the lame shall leap like deer
For waters shall break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert” (Isaiah 35:3-6).

Our leaping lame man, invigorated by God’s resurrection life, begins a fresh procession in Acts not only through the temple, but also through the “wilderness.” He presses forward to the climactic “times of refreshment” and “universal restoration” of all creation realized at Christ’s re-appearing (Acts 3:19-21).