“I have no silver and gold, but I give you what I have; in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, stand up and walk” (read Acts 3:1-9)
Peter, together with his brothers, is a witness of Jesus. He evangelizes, first of all, by his life, then by talking and finally by doing what Jesus did. The text narrates the first action by the first pope: he stands a person on his feet. The program of the Church is to do to others what Jesus did to us.
The crippled man, twisted on himself, has lost the erect posture which distinguishes the human beings from the animals. He cannot look at other people in the face but can only glimpse from down upwards. Incapable of moving and a professional beggar. For him, other people do not exist, they are only a hand that gives. But neither he himself really exists. He is only a hand that receives. The cripple man is the symbol of the inhumanity of all persons whose relationships are instrumental to their crookedness like that which excludes the cripple from the temple and from an authentic life.
This sick man is the mirror of the true sickness that afflicts us: egoism, that makes us wrap ourselves up with ourselves, leaving us alone and in need of everything. Nobody looks the poor in the eyes, least of all the rich. It scares us to see ourselves in the poor if we lose what we possess.
The Church, like Jesus, wants to heal us from our egoism and bestow on us the freedom of walking the path of love, in communion with the brethren and the Father.
Peter, together with John, stares at the man and tells him to look at them, not at their pocket. In Peter’s eyes, where his denial is still fresh, the crippled man sees Jesus’ gaze that saved Peter from the danger of remaining wrapped up in his failure (Luke 22:61). That Jesus, who looked at him as he is looking now at the man, is Peter’s true treasure. Since he has this, not silver nor gold, he can tell the man: “What I have I give you. Rise up and walk.”
If Peter had possessed money, he would have given alms, which is a good thing. If he had had plenty of it, he would have probably built an institute for lame people, something even better. But the only means to raise that man from his religious and civil death is poverty: God and mammon, money and Jesus’ name are incompatible. What we possess gets hold of us: it makes us paralytic and twisted in body like the crippled man. The greed of possessing is idolatry (Ephesians 5:5); the love of money is the root of all evil (1 Timothy 6:10).
To a pious, law abiding young man who questions Him about what he should do to have eternal life, Jesus answers: “You lack one thing: go, sell what you have, and give to the poor then come and follow Me” (Mark 10:17-22). The first community knows that goods are not to be possessed but to be shared with the brethren. It is solidarity that gives life not piling up goods. Hording deprives the poor of material life and the rich of spiritual life which consists in fraternal love. Solidarity, at the same time, allows material welfare for all. And spiritually, it makes us children of God and fosters brotherhood among ourselves.
What hinders the mission of the Church is not the lack of goods but the excessive love for goods. Let us get rid of the armor of privileges to enable us to fraternize with everybody.
To think in this way is not naiveté as Peter used to think when Jesus called him “Satan”. God’s thoughts are above human thoughts [like love to egoism] (Cf. Mark 8:31-33). Notwithstanding the fact that this is evident in the history of the Church, we do not want to give the impression that wealth and power destroy the Church whereas poverty and persecution build her up and strengthen her. I often visited Mozambique, Angola and Guinea-Bissau where the Church was powerful. For five centuries, she enjoyed the “Portuguese patronage” which used to build churches, schools and presbyteries, giving salaries to clergy and catechists. In half-a-millennium of welfare and alliance with the powerful, the Church never took off. When the Communists came, confiscated everything and persecuted the Church, she became alive, blossomed and grew. May God heal us from our different forms of “scoliosis.”