The first reading on Sunday, the feast of Sts Peter and Paul, – or at least the first reading of the Vigil Mass of the Day, not the Mass of the Day – returns us to the Acts of the Apostles, our Easter book.
The reading follows. What strikes you in the reading? What moves and encourages you?
Once, when Peter and John were going up to the Temple for the prayers at the ninth hour, it happened that there was a man being carried past. He was a cripple from birth; and they used to put him down every day near the Temple entrance called the Beautiful Gate so that he could beg from the people going in.
When this man saw Peter and John on their way into the Temple he begged from them. Both Peter and John looked straight at him and said, ‘Look at us.’
He turned to them expectantly, hoping to get something from them, but Peter said, ‘I have neither silver nor gold, but I will give you what I have: in the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, walk!’ Peter then took him by the hand and helped him to stand up. Instantly his feet and ankles became firm, he jumped up, stood, and began to walk, and he went with them into the Temple, walking and jumping and praising God.
Everyone could see him walking and praising God, and they recognised him as the man who used to sit begging at the Beautiful Gate of the Temple. They were all astonished and unable to explain what had happened to him.
The ‘cripple from birth’ has got it all worked out: the team who bring and fetch him; an advantageous place from which to ply his ‘trade’ and a steady flow of people who perhaps are more likely than others to respond compassionately and generously to his request for help.
It’s surely significant all this takes place outside the Temple. Note also the detail Luke gives us that the man begs from those going into the Temple. Presumably, best to ‘display’ himself and confront those who might share what they have with him, he will sit with his back to the Temple (to God!) and with his face to the world.
To this man come the apostles who command him to look at them. What does he see, when he does? Not what he probably expects, people who will give what he asks for, or who tell him off for begging. In fact Luke remains silent about what the man sees.
- To what is your face turned as you take your place in the world?
- What do you seek?
Luke tells us what the man hears – a ministry of the word, that is a ministry of the Word. A ministry of the word that is accompanied by a helping hand.
And the man is faced with a choice – to stick to what he knows and seems to be quite good at, or to risk everything. He does risk everything and in this moment of decision healing comes and conversion happens.
The man turns and goes into the Temple praising God, with the apostles, (with the Church?)
- What – if anything – holds you back from the newness and fullness of life to which the God of Mercy calls you? Why?
The image by Poussin which heads this blog comes from the Metropolitan Museum, New York. It can seem at first sight a rather workaday, prosaic piece. We notice how the key element – the encounter of which Luke tells us is placed high up, in the centre. It’s clearly the subject of the painting, but the more normal (or at least good and charitable) response to a beggar is acted out closer to us in the painting, in a way that rather competes with the ‘main’ subject.
And opposite this second incident, in the right hand corner, is another figure who can’t fail to attract the eye so gaudy are his clothes. He has his back to the scene of evangelical healing, and looks (suspicious, doubtful) on the act of human charity. Does he represent us, and the moment of existential choice that is always ours in how we respond?
The scene of the healing, for all its being the presumed subject of the painting, is presented in this context, and also present rather squashed in between town and temple. The marvel of what is happening there could be so easily missed amidst all that is going on, and the bustle of street life. I can imagine myself rather brusquely pushing past this ‘whatever it is’ that is going on, and inconveniently blocking the gate as I make my way to Temple from town or to town from Temple.
Poussin’s ‘simple’ painting offers a complex of incident and attitude, and challenges us to faithful response, as surely as does the passage from the Acts of the Apostles.