Tuesday, November 19, 2013

"The Beautiful Gate"

“Beautiful Gate” Reflection
St. Vincent de Paul Youth Group
SENT Retreat
November 16, 2013

Guided Meditation on Acts 3:1-11

1 Peter and John were going up to the temple at the ninth hour, which is an hour of prayer,

It is late in the afternoon on a nice spring day. The warmest part of the day has just past, as the sun slowly slides down past midday towards the arid mountains in the west. Soon it will begin its final descent and the cool of the evening will set in. It is the ninth hour of prayer (none). As you make your way down that familiar hill, the Mt. of Olives, where the LORD taught you to pray the “our Father,” and where you spent those sleepy hours with Him in prayer that fate filled night in the garden of Gethsemane, a slight afternoon breeze picks up and waves through the olive branches. Heading east, you pass through the valley and begin to ascend the well worn white stone steps which lead up to the Temple. As you ascend, you see the tall stark white stonewall which holds up the citadel that is the temple mount. It’s brightness, the reflected sunlight beaming down upon you, causes your face to wrinkle and eyes to squint. You keep your head down: Lord, you pray, my eyes [are] not raised from the earth; my mind does not dwell on high things, on marvels that are beyond my reach (Ps 131:1). Now beginning to bump shoulders with Peter and John and the crowd of pilgrims and scholars of the law, you join them in the recitation of the psalms of ascent: Welcome sound, when I heard them saying, We will go into the Lord’s house! (Ps 122:1). Excitement begins to build. You heart begins to burn with longing for the LORD. You are going to the Temple, the one true place of worship for Israel, the Holy City Jerusalem, where the sacrifice can and will be offered.

It is then that you remember acutely the meaning of this hour, 3 O’clock. It is the hour of the evening sacrifice, a sacrifice you know is no longer valid; it no longer holds meaning. For it is the same hour our LORD and Savior Jesus Christ gave His last breath, the ultimate sacrifice, the true and spotless victim hung upon the Cross for the salvation of the world: Into your hands I commend my spirit (Cf. John). You notice Peter and John glancing at each other only briefly as if to remind each other of that moment and where they each were.

2 when a man was carried by who had been lame from birth. Every day he was put down at what is called the Beautiful Gate of the temple, so that he could beg alms from the temple visitors.

Shielding your eyes against the bright sunlight, you cannot but notice looking down at a man 40 years of age (Acts 4:22) although he looks much older. Poverty quickens the years of one’s age. He is a cripple. He cannot walk. His legs and feet are shriveled and contorted and encased in wrinkled dark skin from lack of use. He had been so from birth. You notice him being placed by several men at the mouth of the gate, the “Beautiful Gate,” as it is so-called, and quickly flash back to when such a man was lowered before Jesus through the roof (Cf. Mk 2:1-12; Lk 5:17-26). This gate, the “Beautiful Gate,” is in all its grandeur the entrance for those who have come to dispute and to teach the Law of the LORD. It is the entrance that your Master the LORD Jesus frequently used coming to preach the good news and to be questioned by the Pharisees. Indeed, your coming this day is none other than a continuation of what He always did with you, coming from the Mt. of Olives where He had prayed with you, and heading up through the “Beautiful Gate” to dispute with the Pharisees in the Temple. You consider how heavy His heart must have been, knowing that at that same hour one day He would ascend the Temple Mount to dispute for the last time. You remember His words: But to-day and to-morrow and the next day I must go on my journeys; there is no room for a prophet to meet his death, except at Jerusalem (Luke 3:33).

3 And he asked Peter and John, as he saw them on their way into the temple, if he might have alms from them.

Alms, you think to yourself, do I have alms to give? You have nothing. Following the councils of the Teacher Jesus Christ, you carry not such things. You are poor as He was, owning nothing beyond the clothes on your back: Do not provide gold or silver or copper to fill your purses, 10 nor a wallet for the journey, no second coat, no spare shoes or staff (Matt 10:9-10; Cf. Lk 9:3). He died with nothing, so you shall live with nothing. Peter smirks at you remembering the only way they ever were able to pay the Temple tax by taking two coins out of the mouth of a fish (Cf. Matt 17:23-26). Filled with the joy of being united with Christ you Savior in this moment, you watch Peter take the lead.

4 Peter fastened his eyes on him, as John did too, and said, Turn towards us;

Peter, as if possessed really, fixates on this crippled man lying at the gate and commands His attention. Whom did he see? Surely the sorry state of such a man moved Peter and John with compassion as was Jesus so many times. His stench alone was enough to stop a man in his tracks. You recall the story Jesus once told of Lazarus and the rich man (Cf. Lk 16:19ff). Surely they saw something of their Savior Jesus Christ who not so long ago slumped in a contorted manner poor and naked at the foot of the Cross. Yet, it was clear that Peter saw something more, something deeper beyond the flesh and bone of this poor man. He looked on the crippled man with the gaze of God: men see but outward appearances, [God] reads the heart (1Sam 16:7). And there in the heart of this man, Peter saw true poverty, true emptiness, for this heart knew not its LORD and Savior Jesus Christ. There gazing into this heart Peter was moved with real compassion. You recall those words of Christ in His final days: You have the poor among you always; I am not always among you (Matt 26:11; Cf. Mk 14:7). Peter knew this poverty. In this heart ignorant of Jesus Christ its Savior, you see along with Peter and John all those around you who lack Christ. There in the crippled man you see that complacent athlete who cares about nothing but winning and the party afterwards. There in the crippled man that beautiful girl who defines herself by the man and make-up she is currently using. There the guy who is too cool for school skipping class and participating in non school sponsored extra-curricular activities. There the class clown, who, always looking for a laugh, knows nothing of Church. There the pregnant girl who is too embraced to show herself around others and at Church. There the weird kid, who silently plays his games alone every spare chance he gets. There the socially awkward kid who feels welcome nowhere not even at youth group. There the little guy who is always picked on by others. There the quiet reader who instead of talking prefers keeping her nose in those romance novels. There mister revolution bucking the trend, even if that means the Church. There Mr. and Mrs. Successful who are too into themselves to be truly concerned about the Faith. There the control freak who cannot allow anyone but herself to lead, not even Christ. There the faith filled and inspired youth band leader, who, although speaking about Christ, knows not of His Church. There the strange other who, while clearly religious, is certainly confused about Christianity. There the spiritual guru who is moved by any and all godly thoughts but has not begun to follow Jesus the way, the truth, and the life. There the mad atheist who covers up his pain with anger and frustration at everyone including God. There the mother or father who does not come to mass. There the brother or sister who is going down the wrong path.

Peter and John knew this poverty of Christ. It is the poverty which caused Peter to deny His Savior three times. It is the poverty which drove Judas to take his own life. It is a poverty which gnaws at the soul and will eventually lead it to ruin. It is a poverty which begs not for money or fame or status or pleasure or success but mercy and redemption and salvation. It is a poverty which knows not for what it asks. It is a poverty that only a love of Christ can overcome. 

It is to this man that Peter then called out, turn toward us, look at us. Filled with the Holy Spirit, Peter commands the crippled man’s attention. His voice is that of God’s calling out to the impoverished man’s soul. Indeed, like the voice of John the Baptist crying out in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord, straighten out his paths (Mk 1:3), Peter calls the crippled man to conversion. The crippled and contorted body of this poor beggar is only a sign, an outward manifestation of the poverty and crooked paths within. He lacked Christ as did the rest of the world. Thus, Peter cries out that the poor cripple might turn towards this divine gaze of love fixated upon him and receive God’s mercy and forgiveness by belief in His Son our LORD Jesus Christ. Peter learned well from his Master who many times forgave the sins of those whom He healed. While the Savior came to begin a new creation, He knew that such a creation must begin with the heart, giving them a new heart, and breathing into them a new spirit; taking away from their breasts those stony hearts, and giving them human hearts instead (Cf. Ezek 36:26). It is for this conversion of heart that Peter cries out, turn toward us.

5 and he looked at them attentively, hoping that something would be given him.

This crippled man feeling the heat of this gaze of love, turns his shriveled and limp legs towards Peter hoping to receive what he always does, money. He sees the pity evoked by his state in Peters face. His begging has worked as so many times before. He need only reach out his shaking hand and say a kind word, please, and the gift shall be complete. He will eat tonight. He will be satisfied, if even for today only. 

6 Then Peter said to him, Silver and gold are not mine to give, I give thee what I can. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk.

Peter, unwavered by the sympathy entreating beggar, strides toward the cripple closing the remaining space separating them. Then, standing tall and full of the Spirit of the LORD, he billows out in the name of Jesus Christ his own poverty and commands the cripple to rise. Yet this commandment of Peter is not simply to the body of the cripple, but reaches to the depths of his soul as well. In one cry, Peter proclaims to this poor soul his LORD and Savior Jesus Christ and to his body health. In one word, the Divine Word, Peter reigns in the kingdom of God, calling for the salvation of a soul and the resurrection of its body: the blind see, and the lame walk, how the lepers are made clean, and the deaf hear, how the dead are raised to life, and the poor have the gospel preached to them (Matt 11:5; Cf. Lk 7:22).

7 So, taking him by his right hand, he lifted him up; and with that, strength came to his feet and ankles;8 he sprang up, and began walking, and went into the temple with them, walking, and leaping, and giving praise to God.

Still in haste, Peter follows his word with an act of love, reaching down with his strong right arm and grasping him so as to lift the cripple up off the ground with force. Full of compassion and love for this poor cripple, he stoops down, he humbles himself even such as to touch the man and in so doing bring him life. You see Peter grasp with utter strength and gentleness the forearm of the man and bring him up with the greatest of ease. You watch while, like a wobbly new born calf, the man finds strength in the once contorted and shriveled ankles and feet, and begins to rejoice with exultation. He walks. He jumps. He sings a hymn of praise to our God: the LORD’s strong right arm has saved me (Cf. Ps 60:7). He kicks. He twirls extending his new limbs and joints to their limits. Yet the jubilation without is far exceeded by the gladness within, for his soul which now knows the love of the LORD Jesus Christ has lifted a burden of sin which weighed down and crippled him far beyond that of his legs. For if the oppressing weight of his malformed limbs kept him earthbound, the guilt of generational sin and impending death formed a dark cloud of sadness and depression which would have never left. Yet, this captive was now set free; free from all that could harm him; free from the hands of his enemies; free to worship the LORD without fear holy and righteous in His sight all the days of his life (Cf. Lk 1:73-75).

Peter and John look to give thanks to the LORD for having been found worthy to work such wonders and proceed to the Temple. You and the New Man follow.

9 All the people, as they saw him walking and praising God, 10 recognized him for the man who used to sit begging at the Beautiful Gate of the temple, and were full of wonder and bewilderment at what had befallen him. 11 And he would not let go of Peter and John, so that all the crowd gathered about them in what is called Solomon’s Porch, beside themselves with wonder.

As they passed through that massive gate, the “Beautiful Gate,” the now large crowd surrounding them began to cause a stir, for they recognized this man whom they saw and dealt with everyday at the entrance to the Temple. “Could this be the man…?” “Isn’t that the cripple from…” “What’s happened to the poor beggar?” “Was this the work of a prophet?” “or a healer?” “What are those two up to now?” “Aren’t they two of those that were with Jesus?” The crowds marveled and wondered not believing what they had just witnessed or were now seeing before them. They pestered and surrounded Peter and John separating them from you and the crippled man, who continued his jubilant jaunt through the portico area. Half in amazement, half incredulous at what they had done, they began to question Peter and John. And to this they testified of the works of the LORD.

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