By Sarah Cornwell
A Reading from Acts 14:8-18
8 In Lystra there was a man sitting who could not use his feet and had never walked, for he had been crippled from birth. 9 He listened to Paul as he was speaking. And Paul, looking at him intently and seeing that he had faith to be healed, 10 said in a loud voice, “Stand upright on your feet.” And the man sprang up and began to walk. 11 When the crowds saw what Paul had done, they shouted in the Lycaonian language, “The gods have come down to us in human form!” 12 Barnabas they called Zeus, and Paul they called Hermes, because he was the chief speaker. 13 The priest of Zeus, whose temple was just outside the city, brought oxen and garlands to the gates; he and the crowds wanted to offer sacrifice. 14 When the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of it, they tore their clothes and rushed out into the crowd, shouting, 15 “Friends, why are you doing this? We are mortals just like you, and we bring you good news, that you should turn from these worthless things to the living God, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them. 16 In past generations he allowed all the nations to follow their own ways; 17 yet he has not left himself without a witness in doing good — giving you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, and filling you with food and your hearts with joy.” 18 Even with these words, they scarcely restrained the crowds from offering sacrifice to them.
Today St. Paul ministers to an individual and to a crowd. In some ways these ministries are quite distinct. The individual is a quietly listening man who has never used his feet. Upon a command from Paul, he immediately springs up and walks. In contrast, Paul also ministers to a large crowd, who are ambulatory, but not very good listeners. Upon seeing the crippled man healed, the crowd go and gather the priest of Zeus to make sacrifices to Paul and Barnabas. Despite loud protestations, it seems Paul and Barnabas are just barely able to contain their erroneous enthusiasm. This crowd does not seem inclined to listen too closely.
Yet what unifies the individual and the crowd is faith. It is amazing that the crippled man takes a leap of faith and begins to walk, surefooted. (Imagine if a stranger came up to you and told you to walk on your hands. Would you confidently flip over and walk across the room?) Then there is the crowd, ready to believe that the gods can come down in human form, can heal, and that they ought to be worshipped. These are the seeds of faith, but they are chaotic, misguided. They can walk, but they walk around in circles tripping over one another and themselves in an effort to worship something. Yet, in time, this rudimentary faith can be given direction, so that when the crowd witnesses the miraculous, their feet — as well as their hearts and minds — may be directed to walk straight.
Like Paul and Barnabas, we too are called to minister to the individual and to the crowd. In your life, who is the individual who is quietly listening, ready to take a leap of faith and walk surefooted for the first time in his life? Who are the members of the crowd, possessing a rudimentary, if currently misdirected, faith? What could you say to point these people toward the living God?
Sarah Cornwell is a laywoman and an associate of the Eastern Province of the Community of St. Mary. She and her husband have six children and they live in the Hudson Valley north of New York City.
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