Discoveries made through a mistake, battles lost by a sudden change of wind, unintentional inflection points in a life through a wrong turn. The history of our world is full of them. In fact, the closer we study major shifts the more likely we are to see they often hinge on seemingly unimportant choices that make the outcome radically different.
What if Archduke Ferdinand’s driver had not accidentally turned down the wrong street giving a Serbian nationalist his opportunity?
What if the wind had not shifted on the Spanish Armada destroying their fleet?
What if a dish of bacteria in the lab of Alexander Fleming had not been contaminated with Penicillium mold?
If you look carefully at the history of the church you will see the same. There are moments when an interruption in a routine sets the stage for consequences that no one could have imagined. C.S. Lewis wrote: “The great thing, if one can, is to stop regarding all the unpleasant things as interruptions of one’s ‘own,’ or ‘real’ life. The truth is of course that what one calls the interruptions are precisely one’s real life — the life God is sending one day by day.” So it is for Peter and John’s encounter with the crippled beggar at the Temple. In fact, in one 24 hour period everything changed for the future of the early church as a direct result of their response to a beggar they were passing at the Temple one morning. The course of Western history shifted in that moment. It could have gone one way but it went another.
Because the church had everything in common there was no need for Peter and John to carry money. They were not poor but simply had no need for silver or gold and had nothing to give the pleading beggar. What if they had? They might well have tossed a coin and passed on. But there was no temptation to substitute a donation for their full attention. In some ways, giving a beggar their attention was a gift in itself. We all look away. I’ve talked with former panhandlers and learned that the secret to begging is making eye contact. “If you can make eye contact your chances are 100% better for getting something.” But this time it was those being asked who wanted eye contact. “Look at us!” Peter said. It is not Peter’s routine that is interrupted but the beggar’s.
An Act of Kindness
Peter and John were not looking for an opportunity to do something spectacular. They were not on a mission of healing or out to eliminate poverty. This was not part of the strategy for church growth. There was no plan other than their consistent way of life. They came together to eat and praise God. They went to the Temple to pray and there Peter would preach. It was simple. Mary Poplin in “Finding Calcutta” writes,
I never heard a Missionary of Charity discussing how to rid the world of poverty. No one wrung their hands over the fact that many needy people on the streets of Calcutta went untouched by the work of these few hundred women. The sisters simply took in the poorest of the poor, those least likely to get other help. They were not fixing the world or changing systems. They were paying attention to each individual – not the whole of humanity.
And that is exactly what Peter was saying when he spoke, “such as I have, I give to you.” The Sadducees called it a “miracle” but Peter said it was only “an act of kindness.” You could say that kindness – then and now – is supernatural in itself. We are not expected to perform miracles or even great deeds but only acts of kindness in the name of Jesus. But even that kindness lands them in jail for the night. Kindness disrupts the normal. It unsettles the way things are and threatens people with vested interests. I think that is why Peter wrote late in his life, “Do not fear what they fear.”
Do not fear the unpredictable effects of kindness.
Look at the chain of events set in motion by this chance meeting in a routine day of three men in a crowd:
∙ The church grows to 5,000.
∙ The church is persecuted.
∙ The church is forced to leave Jerusalem.
∙ The church through the conversion of Paul goes global.
One act of kindness is the turning point for the future of the church. It puts in play a series of events none of them could have shaped. They were not looking for a niche, a plan, or even a ministry focus. They did not turn the miracle into a separate ministry. Instead, they were only ordinary and unschooled men who had been with Jesus. They were merely in their daily routine when everything changed forever.
Weaving by Caroline Bartlett