It’s not polite to stare.
But sometimes you just have to.
For much of our lives, we may sleepwalk through the day, plodding through our routines. It’s the same old same-old. Our brains, however, are wired to perk up and take notice when something new happens, something that goes against what our brains would predict. We stare, wide-eyed, taking in everything we can, until we can make sense of what astonishes us.
It’s quite understandable.
Then again, you wouldn’t want to be on the receiving end of that stare.
In earlier posts, we’ve looked at Luke’s story of the lame beggar who was healed by Peter in the name of Jesus (Lame, Beggar, healed by the power of Jesus — let’s just call him “LBJ” for short). LBJ had been unable to walk since birth — but suddenly, his feet and ankles received the strength they needed. He stood, he walked…then went joyously bounding about, praising God.
It was quite the scene, and people probably stared.
I imagine they stared, first of all, because LBJ was creating a bit of a ruckus in a supposedly holy place. He had entered the inner court of the temple with Peter and John, where the men went for the prayer service preceding the evening sacrifice. If somebody started running and jumping about at the beginning of a worship service at our church, I’d stare too.
But of course, the people also stared because they recognized him. Isn’t this the guy that used to sit at the gate with his hand out? Isn’t he supposed to be lame? How is this happening?
The sight may also have been jarring in other ways. Quite possibly, it was the first time LBJ had ever been there. A lame priest was forbidden from offering sacrifices (Lev 21:16ff), and there is some thought that all of the lame may have been prevented from entering the temple. If this is so, then even if everybody knew who he was, they had never seen him there, inside the court, instead of merely sitting at its gate.
I imagine that many of the people were gripped with a positive sense of wonder. But realistically, I suspect that some were also gripped by disgust, as in, That raggedy beggar? What is he doing in here?
In other words, people are staring at him for different reasons. But nobody is seeing him as a person.
Do you know what that’s like? To be stared at but not seen?
Picture that scenario, then think about what Luke tells us next:
While the healed man clung to Peter and John, all the people rushed toward them at Solomon’s Porch, completely amazed. Seeing this, Peter addressed the people: “You Israelites, why are you amazed at this? Why are you staring at us as if we made him walk by our own power or piety? (Acts 3:11-12, CEB)
At this point, the prayer service (and probably the sacrifice) were over; Peter and John were leaving the inner courts and walking over to Solomon’s Porch, and LBJ was going with them. The Porch was a colonnade on the eastern side of the temple area, flanking the outer court of the Gentiles. Jesus himself had walked and taught there (e.g., John 10:23), and the believers in Jerusalem were in the habit of gathering there (Acts 5:12).
Luke tells us that LBJ “clung to” Peter and John. He was not, apparently, just sauntering along on his newly healed legs, happily hanging out with his new best buddies. The word Luke uses has the sense of powerfully taking hold of something. He had a death grip on them.
A guy who just a little while ago was prancing with joy? Why?
Because he was used to being ignored, and now he was the center of attention. People were staring at him. Lots of them. Without seeing him.
And there, at the colonnade, Peter looked around and saw the people staring. Staring at LBJ. Staring at Peter and John as if they were magicians.
So, as we will see, Peter decided to say something.