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Our Lenten Journey - Week 4: Alms-giving

Scripture - Acts 3:1-10

3 Now Peter and John were going up to the temple at the hour of prayer, the ninth hour. 2 And a man lame from birth was being carried, whom they laid daily at the gate of the temple that is called the Beautiful Gate to ask alms of those entering the temple. 3 Seeing Peter and John about to go into the temple, he asked to receive alms. 4 And Peter directed his gaze at him, as did John, and said, “Look at us.” 5 And he fixed his attention on them, expecting to receive something from them. 6 But Peter said, “I have no silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!” 7 And he took him by the right hand and raised him up, and immediately his feet and ankles were made strong. 8 And leaping up, he stood and began to walk, and entered the temple with them, walking and leaping and praising God. 9 And all the people saw him walking and praising God, 10 and recognized him as the one who sat at the Beautiful Gate of the temple, asking for alms. And they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him.

Reflection - As Peter and John approach the temple for prayer, one of those who gathered at the temple gates to seek alms calls out to them. With head down and hands out, he calls to them begging for money. His posture is not just one of humility but of humiliation. Peter responds not in pity but in love. He looks and sees the man. He speaks to the man saying look up and see us, enter into human contact. Instead of money, the man receives dignity. Moved by the Holy Spirit, Peter speaks healing in the name of Jesus. The man responds in great joy and praise. The one who was outside the temple enters the temple. Those who had seen him but never known him are filled with wonder.

The practice of alms giving has most often been associated with giving money to the poor, but this practice grew out of the ways of maintaining community that God provided as His people came to dwell in the land which he was giving them. The agricultural practices of leaving the edges of the fields and gleanings at the harvest for the poor and the sojourner became the more mercantile practice of giving money so that the poor might buy food. While this is good and worthwhile, the intent of community is often lost.

Jesus admonished the Pharisees to “give as alms those things that are within“ (Luke 11:41). Peter and John live this out as they give what is more than money to the man at the temple gate. In our own lives, how many people do we encounter without even seeing them? It is easy for me to be so focused on “important” tasks that I can fail to see the people around me. I can assume a posture of superiority or humiliation in order to avoid being interrupted. If I am honest, what I am avoiding is the uncomfortable vulnerability of relationship, of knowing and being known even if just a little. Like those who passed by the man tossing a few coins his way, I prefer the structure and order of acting out of obligation over the messiness of relationship. However, Love calls us to turn our gaze on one another, to see the Beloved in the other and in ourselves, to offer dignity, healing, and community to the glory of God.

Practice - This week, let us prayerfully consider the people we encounter.

- Begin by asking God to bring to light the people you encountered during the day.

- In what ways did you turn you gaze and truly see another person? In what ways did you avoid seeing another person?

- In what ways did you offer dignity, healing, and community? In what ways did you receive dignity, healing, and community from another?

- In what ways is God inviting you to know and be known? In what ways are you accepting this invitation? In what ways are you resisting?

- Close this time of prayer by considering one encounter or relationship that fills you with joy and wonder. Offer praise and thanksgiving to God for this gift.

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