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Not Just Another Handout

By Pamela A. Lewis

Reading from Acts, 3:1-11

1 One day Peter and John were going up to the temple at the hour of prayer, at three o’clock in the afternoon. 2And a man lame from birth was being carried in. People would lay him daily at the gate of the temple called the Beautiful Gate so that he could ask for alms from those entering the temple. 3When he saw Peter and John about to go into the temple, he asked them for alms. 4Peter looked intently at him, as did John, and said, “Look at us.” 5And he fixed his attention on them, expecting to receive something from them. 6But Peter said, “I have no silver or gold, but what I have I give you; in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, stand up and walk.” 7And he took him by the right hand and raised him up; and immediately his feet and ankles were made strong. 8Jumping up, he stood and began to walk, and he entered the temple with them, walking and leaping and praising God. 9All the people saw him walking and praising God, 10and they recognized him as the one who used to sit and ask for alms at the Beautiful Gate of the temple; and they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him.

11 While he clung to Peter and John, all the people ran together to them in the portico called Solomon’s Portico, utterly astonished.


God wants to give us the best gifts — not the shiny, costly baubles of luxury, but wholeness, peace, and forgiveness. Instead, we spurn those and keep our wishes small and limited, as does the lame man in today’s reading. Day after day, he holds out his hand in hope of receiving a few paltry coins as alms. He expects little, and receives little — if anything at all. He is so accustomed to not having his eyes met by others that John and Peter must tell him to look at them.

Nothing has changed: We also avoid making eye contact with the poor and homeless among us. And from Peter and John the lame man expects nothing greater than he would receive from all the others who indifferently pass by.

Then, on this particular day, he receives what he wanted all along. Yet he is so inured to getting only the bare minimum that he has long since abandoned expecting, much less asking, for more. Being able to rise and walk is wonderful, no question. But we should never underestimate the gift of being acknowledged, being seen. Jesus, in the persons of Peter and John, stops, looks at the man, and puts forth his hands, enabling the man to walk among those who always walked past him.

Many of us have yet to come to the place — the place called “Beautiful” — where we expect something from God. Victims of our own low expectations, we don’t ask God for our heart’s true desires: wholeness, and being seen and known. Anything else is just another handout.

Pamela A. Lewis taught French for thirty years before retirement. A lifelong resident of Queens, N.Y., she attends Saint Thomas Church Fifth Avenue, and serves on various lay ministries. She writes for The Episcopal New YorkerEpiscopal Journal, and The Living Church.

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