We Are Witnesses - Week Two: "Why Are You Surprised?"

It’s Eastertide (Season of Easter)

We will study from the Book of Acts to learn more about those first witnesses of the Resurrection and what we can apply to our own time and place.  

Today, we will be reading from the margins of the story we will explore in Acts. And this concept got me thinking this week about supporting characters in stories, particularly in films. 

How The Supporting Cast Tells The Tale

What are some characters in a film that played a supporting role, but the story depended upon them?  

Val Kilmer - Tombstone
Steve Buscemi - Big Lebowski
Robert Downey Jr. - Tropic Thunder 
Cameron Diaz - My Best Friend's Wedding 
Maggie Gyllenhall - The Dark Knight 
Christopher Waltz - Django Unchained, Inglorious B****rds

There are countless examples, but we can also use literary references.  Imagine Shakespeare's Othello without Iago and Julius Caesar without Brutus. Or Melville's Moby Dick without Capt. Ahab, Calvin without Hobbes... 

Sometimes, it’s important to read Scripture from the margins.  The people who play the supporting roles are often critical in our understanding of what is really happening in the story.  

Plus, when we read from the margins, we become much more mindful of who is being excluded from the story and who is being pushed to those margins in some way. 

Reading the Bible from the margins can change our perspective and help us dig deeper into meaning. 

Today's character drives our story: a disabled man who was healed by Peter and John outside of the Temple. 

His story becomes intertwined with Peter's and John's---two disciples who had witnessed Jesus heal countless people over the three years they were with him.  


And healing means different things at different times, as we will soon discover. 

Let's do a little bit of background on this story: 

Pentecost had happened
The Church was growing 
Peter and John were on their way to pray at the Temple 
The Gate Beautiful - image 
They encounter a man begging at the gate 
He asks them for alms, but Peter offers him something more 
6 Then Peter said, “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.” 7 Taking him by the right hand, he helped him up, and instantly the man’s feet and ankles became strong. 8 He jumped to his feet and began to walk. Then he went with them into the temple courts, walking and jumping, and praising God.

Naturally, a guy almost everyone had seen daily begging outside the Temple because he could not walk, who was now jumping and praising, caused a stir.  

 Peter then addresses the crowd: 

12 When Peter saw this, he said to them: “Fellow Israelites, why does this surprise you? Why do you stare at us as if by our own power or godliness we had made this man walk? 13 The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of our fathers, has glorified his servant Jesus. You handed him over to be killed, and you disowned him before Pilate, though he had decided to let him go. 14 You disowned the Holy and Righteous One and asked that a murderer be released to you. 15 You killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead. We are witnesses of this. 16 By faith in the name of Jesus, this man whom you see and know was made strong. It is Jesus’ name and the faith that comes through him that has completely healed him, as you can all see.

17 “Now, fellow Israelites, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did your leaders. 18 But this is how God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, saying that his Messiah would suffer. 19 Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord,
This is a powerful sermon and pretty pointed.  There's so much good stuff in here, but I want to focus on the man who was healed for a bit. What do we know about his situation?

Pharisees and almsgiving.  

Although there were no legal prohibitions on people with disabilities worshipping in the Temple, the Pharisees didn't want them there. Honestly, they were more interested in keeping them outside the Temple so they could make a great show of giving them alms when they went in.  

Still, they were denied full inclusion, with what the Pharisees perceived as good intentions. 

All this got me thinking about the history of Christianity and how people with disabilities were viewed and treated.  

While there have been plenty of Pharisaical Christians in the Church for centuries, some Christian thinkers and theologians saw things differently.  
Let us take care of Christ while there is still time; let us minister to Christ’s needs, let us give Christ nourishment, let us clothe Christ, let us gather Christ in, let us show Christ honor. . . . Let us give this gift to him through the needy, who today are cast down on the ground, so that when we all are released from this place, they may receive us into the eternal tabernacle, in Christ himself, who is our Lord.” (Oration 14, 39-40) - Gregory of Nazianzus 
German theologian Jurgen Moltmann's centerpiece for this theological work was the concept of a "disabled God," a God who takes on suffering and disability and who identifies with the suffering and disabled. 

So, let's return to the moment Peter heals the man at the gate.  

Peter offered the man something beyond physical healing—dignity, notice, and restoration. He had seen it, and now he practiced it.

How Does A Disabled God Inform Our Views on Disability? 

1. Don’t frame disability as tragic or inspirational—see the whole self. 
2. Read from the margins—identify be aware of implicit bias 

Jeri Jewel, the first disabled actress, once said: “The real disabilities are the human ones, fear, anger, hatred, bitterness, bigotry, envy, and strife.”

3. The Body of Christ—all of the parts are needed to make it Christ’s 
God feels the world in the way the disabled person feels the world. To call God disabled reminds us of the concreteness of God's loving presence in the world. - Burton Cooper "The Disabled God"


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