If the growing company of disciples had any doubt that Jesus was present with them and in them even though no longer in physical form, they were given proof after proof, as they found themselves doing the things that Jesus did, things that would previously have been impossible to them. One such occasion was when Peter and John were on their way to the temple one afternoon in time for the prayer service.
It was a trip they made every day, and every day they passed a man who couldn’t walk, being carried by his family to the Beautiful Gate, where he was accustomed to sit in the dust and beg from the worshippers. It was dirty and undignified, but it was the only contribution he could make to the family who provided for him. On this particular day, he reached out towards Peter and John and asked them for money. They would gladly have given him whatever they could afford and even more, except that both of them had come out without any money. But money or no, Peter knew what he did have to give.
The man, like most beggars, his dignity stripped from him, stared at the ground with his hand extended hopefully. “Look at us,” Peter invited gently. The man was startled. Whoever made eye contact with a beggar? He was used to being treated as less than human. Even those who did deign to give to him flung their coins grudgingly in his direction. Eye to eye contact suggested equality, such an outrageous idea that not only his eyes but his mouth was wide open in astonishment as he looked first at Peter, then John, then back to Peter, searching in vain for hostility or mockery on their faces.
“I haven’t got any money with me,” Peter began. The man’s face fell, and he turned away, hanging his head as before. He’d had high hopes of these people, and now those hopes had been dashed. “No, look at us,” Peter insisted. The beggar raised his head again, less eagerly this time. “I’ll give you what I do have,” Peter went on.
He reached out and took hold of the man’s hand. The man hesitantly allowed his hand to be gripped, his brow furrowed and a puzzled look in his eyes. As Peter grasped his hand, he felt a vibrating current of life pass through him, all the way to his paralysed toes which had felt nothing for most of his life. “In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, stand up and walk.” There was a confident authority in Peter’s voice as he issued what sounded like a command.
The man gasped as the wasted muscles in his skinny legs began to bulk out, and he felt an unaccustomed strength come into his ankles. Peter pulled gently on his right hand and helped him to his feet. The man stood, swaying a little unsteadily at first, his face radiating astonishment and delight. He stamped, then hopped up and down, trying out the new-found ability in his legs.
“Come,” Peter invited, and began to walk into the temple courts for prayer. The erstwhile beggar took one unsteady step and then another, trying to get used to the new sensations of being upright and walking alongside other men as an equal. After a few steps he could contain his joy no longer, and began leaping around, laughing, all the way into the temple courts, behaviour that would have been disrespectful in any other circumstances, but was completely fitting on this occasion, as the man gave thanks and praise to God not only with his voice but with the whole of his body.
No one even thought of criticising his behaviour – at least not until later in the day. They recognised him as the beggar from the temple gate and were every bit as astonished as he was. And Peter and John, glancing delightedly at one another, understood why Jesus never talked merely of people being healed, but of being made whole.