Sometimes the daily readings for Eucharistic liturgies provide almost too much to take in. One such day is Wednesday of Easter week when we hear the wonderful story of the cure of the crippled man by Peter (Acts of the Apostles 3:1-10) as well as the stunning story of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35). Since homilies for daily liturgies should be brief, homilists usually concentrate on the Lukan story, and rightly so since it is Easter week. As a result we might not spend much time with the healing of the crippled man. Because, it seems to me, this story fits so well with the mission of IVC and with our reading of Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion, I would like to focus in this blog on it, and especially on one feature of the healing. Before reading on, you might want to read the story in Acts.
Notice what Peter and John did when the man asked for alms: “Peter looked intently at him, as did John.” We all know what happens most often to those afflicted as this man. Very few people meet their eyes, even when they give alms. Afflicted people are often invisible to others. One of the great pains of being a blind beggar or a handicapped person is that people don’t pay any attention to you, or only see you as a problem or a pest. Afflicted people are often excluded from our communities and even from our gaze. That’s what so arresting about the words, “Peter looked intently at him, as did John.” Peter and John have learned the way of Jesus very well. They know how to pay attention and even to ask the crippled man to look at them.
Isn’t this what Jesus did whenever he met someone who was afflicted? Recall the leper in Mark 1:40–45. Jesus must have looked at him because the leper came close enough to Jesus to beg on bended knees. Lepers were supposed to stand far off with a bell and to cry out “Unclean, unclean.” They were not members of the community any more. On his knees he said, “If you choose, you can make me clean.” Moved with compassion Jesus reached out and touched him and said, “I do choose. Be made clean!” Jesus not only looked at him but also took the chance of getting the disease himself by touching him. With look and touch he invites this afflicted man back into the community. As followers of Jesus we are moved by the Spirit to do the same for the afflicted people we meet regularly. Even if we cannot alleviate their pain, we can at least let them know that they are not alone by looking at them with compassion.
Fr. Bill Barry, SJ is a Spiritual Reflector for IVC New England. He entered the Society of Jesus in 1950 and was ordained in 1962. He earned a Ph.D. in clinical psychology from the University of Michigan in 1968. He has taught at the University of Michigan, Weston Jesuit School of Theology, and Boston College. Bill is the author or co-author of 20 books, including The Practice of Spiritual Direction, God and You, Finding God in All Things, Spiritual Direction and the Encounter with God, Who Do You Say I Am?, A Friendship Like No Other, and Contemplatives in Action with Fr. Robert Doherty. For more on his writing please visit Loyola Press.