What do you do when you encounter someone panhandling on the street? When we drive to Philadelphia to take our boys to CHOP, we have begun to recognize the various panhandlers. We have several options- we can read their signs; we can give them money; we can walk on by; we could talk with them, and so on.
My response to panhandlers is inconsistent. On the one hand, I rarely carry any sort of cash with me. On the other, if I have money, I am guilty of ignoring their cries for assistance. There are times when I’ve taken something to eat for those who are looking for support. How do we help those who are located on the outskirts of acceptance and community?
For our first date, Andrea and I went to a minor league hockey game in Lexington, KY. I had won tickets during an intermission promotion when I was on a date with a different girl a few weeks before. After the hockey game, Andrea and I went to Applebees for half-priced appetizers. We were poor college students, and I was seeking to appeal to her sense of frugality. Free hockey tickets and half-price appetizers. How much more romantic could I be?
Over mozzarella sticks and nachos, we began to get to know one another better. Andrea had spent the previous semester in India and Nepal, serving the poorest of the poor in those two nations. In Nepal, she taught Buddhist Monk English through the Gospel of Luke. In Calcutta, India, she served at Mother Theresa’s Home for the Dying. Mother Theresa had just died in the previous year.
Mother Theresa’s Home for the Dying was mainly a hospice center where those marginalized and forgotten could die with dignity. Part of Andrea’s time working there was to cut the finger and toenails of the men and women who had been picked up off the streets. I’m not sure how I would react to having that job.
In India, Mother Theresa’s Home for the Dying offered the love of Jesus to those people would not look at. When they had very little else to offer- they offered them, Jesus.
Luke, the author of Acts, tells us that at 3:0 in the afternoon, during the time of prayer, that Peter and John were going up to the temple for prayer. Outside the temple, at the Gate called Beautiful- which was an ornately decorated gate- sat a man who would beg from those going into prayer. Later, in chapter four, we discover that this man born lame was forty years old. For forty years, the man sat outside the worshiping community to beg for money.
When Peter and John walk by, the man makes his request for alms. Peter looked at the man and said, Look at us! Luke records that the man gave them his attention. Think about how you respond to panhandlers. Often, we don’t make eye contact for a variety of reasons. But Peter demands it, and the man gives it. He is fully expecting to receive some monetary support from Peter.
Peter pulls what has to be the original Jesus Juke. A Jesus Juke is when we attempt to look past the immediate need and offer a person Jesus. It might be handing someone a track that looks like a hundred dollar bill, and it might be making people at a soup kitchen who are hungry listen to a worship service before feeding them. These are examples of Jesus jukes. Peter says,
“Silver or gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.”
Two things become apparent. The man had to initially be disappointed to hear Peter say that he had no money to offer him. Secondly, after not being able to walk for forty years, hearing someone tell him to walk must have sounded a little crazy. But Peter takes the man by the hand and helps him up, and INSTANTLY his ankles became strong. Luke says that he jumped to his feet and began to walk. Then, he went into the temple courts, walking and jumping, and praising God. Everyone who says the man recognized him as the guy who stood by the temple gates and begged. A sense of wonder and amazement filled the place.
With the man clinging to Peter and John, Peter began to preach and offer the people in the temple courts the Good News of Jesus, inviting them to repent from their sins to experience forgiveness and “times of refreshing”(vs. 19). After offering the powerful healing and offering the man Jesus- Peter preached, and the early Church grew again.
When we offer Jesus, Jesus changes lives.
Did you notice in the text the change of location for the man who was born lame? At the beginning of the account, we learned that this lame man was carried to The Gate Called Beautiful daily. The Gate was just outside of the temple. The man intended to receive from the good intentions of those who were going into the temple. He was outside of the worshipping community, begging from those going inside.
After the man is healed, as his ability changes, so do his location. Luke tells us that, After the man was healed, THEN, he went with them into the temple courts. The healing moves the man from outside the temple to the inside of it. The healing the man receives, in Jesus’ name, brings him into the faith community.
When we offer Jesus, Jesus Changes Lives.
Who are the people who are outside the walls of the Church, and what do we have to offer them?
We all think there are things that we need in life. There are things that we want. Sometimes, we don’t always know what we need. The lame man thought he needed money. What he needed was an encounter with Jesus through Peter and John. This encounter led to his healing and moving from the outskirts of the community, where people would pass him by without making eye contact and entering the worship community by praising and leaping.
I believe that one of the challenges of the Church is that we sometimes forget to offer Jesus. I know of a church that provided household and personal hygiene items to those in need but were directed by some of their leadership not to offer to pray with those who came into the Church to receive assistance. The leadership insisted on not inviting the people who came for help to worship. While providing items to persons in need is right, when we do it apart from Jesus, the Church becomes a glorified social service center. We can and should meet physical requirements as an extension of our ministry. What sets us apart from social services is that we are called to share Jesus.
Peter and John had nothing to offer the man except Jesus. Father John McKenzie writes:
If the Church were to lose its hierarchy, its clergy, its vast collection of buildings, its stores of learning amassed over the centuries, even the text of its sacred books and had to face the world with nothing but the living presence of the Risen Jesus and its mission to proclaim the Good News to all nations and people, it would be no less a church than the Church of Peter and Paul was. Perhaps it might be more of a church than it is now.
When we offer Jesus, Jesus Changes Lives.
When we are intentional about introducing people to Jesus and building relationships with them, lives are transformed. Think about it; someone introduced you to Jesus, shared their faith with you, and created space for you to decide live with Jesus as your Lord and Savior. Maybe it was a parent, a Sunday School Teacher, a coach, or even a pastor. If you’re like me, when Jesus became part of my life, my location changed. I found a new community that, while not perfect, loves me and walks with me. I moved from the outskirts of the Church into a new family that brought life, healing, and hope through Jesus Christ.
Our heart’s desire may be to give people whatever we can. We can also become consumed with what we cannot provide them based on limitations- not enough money, no more space, and so on. Regardless of what we can and cannot offer- the most important thing is to offer Jesus. When we offer Jesus- Jesus is enough because it is Jesus who transforms our lives- bringing healing and changing our location from being an outsider to an insider.
This morning, who do you need to offer Jesus to? As you go through your week- who is the Holy Spirit is leading you to pray with. Perhaps you identify with the lame man and find yourself on the outside looking in. When we have Jesus in our lives, we are given a new family, a new hope, and a new life location.
When we offer Jesus, Jesus Changes Lives.