Easter 3b 2015 • SJF • Tobias Stanislas Haller BSGOur reading from the Acts of the Apostles begins a bit abruptly, including a reference to an “it” and a “him” whom some of us might not recognize. We are fortunate in having a beautiful stained-glass window depicting him and it, right on the southern wall of the sanctuary — take a look at it as you come up to communion because it is hard to see from the nave of the church; it will be on your right as you approach the altar rail. It depicts Peter and John standing before the man at the Beautiful Gate of the Temple. He is the “him” and the “it” is his miraculous healing through the name of Jesus. To refresh all of our memories, let me read a slightly abridged portion from the Acts of the Apostles just prior to our first reading today, as it sets the scene for what follows.
Peter said, “Why do you wonder at this, or why do you stare at us, as though by our own power of piety we had made him walk?”
That’s the “it” and the “him.” Our reading today continues the tale with Peter’s testimony to the crowd that are amazed at all of this; that it is the power of Jesus’ name that has wrought this miracle. He castigates the people and their rulers for having rejected and killed the author of life, and testifies that he and the apostles are witnesses to the resurrection of God’s chosen and righteous one, in whose name and by whose name this man has been healed. And he calls them to repent, even though, he says, they “acted in ignorance.”
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Ignorance is a theme that runs through all of our readings today, including the bit I added from the first part of chapter three of Acts. But before I go any further I want to clear up a possible misunderstanding, and that revolves around the meaning of the word ignorance. Sometimes people will use the word ignorant as a synonym for an insult, for “stupid.” They’ll say, “Oh, you’re ignorant!” But that is not really what ignorant means. To be ignorant is not to know something — not to be incapable of knowing something, but merely not knowing a particular something or some things. Even the smartest people in the world are ignorant, because no one knows everything. In fact, the smartest people in the world know that they don’t know everything, and they are always willing to learn. It is the people who think they know everything that are usually the most untrustworthy. And the other good news is that ignorance can be remedied: as soon as you learn something that you didn’t know before you are no longer ignorant of that fact. Once you have new information, you are no longer, but informed.
So with that cleared up, let’s look at some of the ignorance laid before us in the Scripture passages we read today, beginning with that passage from Acts. In the part that I read, it is the man at the gate who is ignorant. He is not a disciple. Although he’s lived in Jerusalem for a long time — for the Scripture tells of how people would carry him in every day, and set him in the gate to beg for alms, and after his healing they all recognize him (they’re not ignorant about him; they know him very well!) — but he is ignorant of who Peter and John are. He doesn’t know them from Adam. He is ignorant of them — he doesn’t know who these out-of-towners from Galilee are. He’s lived in Jerusalem his whole life; people from Galilee may come and go, but he doesn’t know who they are. All he is interested in is what he can get out of them, and as soon as Peter addresses him, you can well expect that he stretched out his hand for a coin or two. Peter immediately remedies his ignorance, informing him that he and John have no money to give him; and I can well guess he is disappointed! But then Peter surprises him, and says, I’ve got something better than gold: he reveals the name of Jesus, the best bit of information this world has ever known, at which point Peter takes him by the hand to raise him up, healed of his weakness and able not just to walk, but to leap for joy! More than his ignorance is remedied! His heart is filled with the knowledge of God’s healing power, known in his own healed limbs.
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The next ignorance addressed is that to which Peter refers in what follows. He charges the people for having rejected Jesus, even when Pilate was ready to release him, and they chose a murderer to be released instead. But, as Peter continues, they and their rulers acted in ignorance — an ignorance that helped in its own ironic way to fulfill God’s promise that the Messiah had to suffer. However, now that the suffering is over and Christ is raised from the dead, the school of God is back in session: it is time to learn something new, something of which they were ignorant before. It is time for them to put that ignorance behind them, to become informed by the Gospel, and to embrace the truth of the power of Jesus’ name — not just to heal a disabled man, but to restore all of them to the wholeness that God intends for each and every one, through grace by faith.
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The next ignorance described in our readings — this one from the First Epistle of John — is double: The world is ignorant of God and of us as children of God; but we too are not without our limitations, our own ignorance: As John says, “We are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed.” There is still more to learn, more revelation to come, more opening of the eyes of our faith. The good news is that our ignorance is not total: “What we do know,” he writes, “is this: when he is revealed we will be like him, for we will see him as he is.” We don’t see him yet, but when we do we will be like him. We will learn something wonderful and new. This is the hope of all who seek Jesus, who number themselves among the company of those who have believed in his name, and are washed with his blood, united with him in a death like so that we may be united with him in a rising from the dead like his. At present, as St Paul would also affirm, our knowledge is partial as if seeing dimly in a mirror. But when Christ is revealed we shall know as we are known, fully informed, fully enlightened by the light of the world, the revelation of the Son of God.
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And so it is fitting that the final ignorance with which we are presented today is that of the apostles themselves. They have heard the testimony of Peter and the disciples who had encountered Jesus on the way to Emmaus. And while they are still arguing and trying to understand all of this, Jesus himself appears among them — to their amazement, and in the case of some, disbelief. And Jesus, ever the good teacher, gently instructs them, relieving their ignorance with the good news, reminding them that this is what he had told them beforehand would happen, before they came to Jerusalem in the first place, before the time that he said he would suffer; and, moreover, that all of this was attested in the Scriptures (in the Law of Moses, in the Prophets, and in the Psalms) — Scriptures they had read their whole lives, Scriptures they knew by heart and yet somehow they had never put two and two together even when those holy promises were being fulfilled before their eyes. Such was the ignorance of the apostles that they needed not only to experience, but to remember, to be reminded that the experience matched the promise. They needed a good teacher to inform them of how the promises of the past become real in the present.
And this is the gentle way in which God continues to enlighten our darkness, to lift our ignorance, to inform our minds and rejoice our hearts. Not suddenly, but bit by bit, story by story, and revelation by revelation. By promise and reminder, by poetry and prose, by repeating the lesson until we understand; by words from on high and hopes uttered in our inmost hearts by the groaning of the Spirit within each of us — so it is that the Good Teacher teaches, and the Great Physician heals.
May we, like the man at the gate, reach out for what we know not, but find that we are grasping the hand of the One who brings us gifts better than we can ask or imagine, even Jesus Christ our Lord.