Outside the Gate

Wednesday of the Octave of Easter
Lectionary 263

Prayer Continues

On their way to the Temple, but outside the gate, Peter and John continued the ordinary Judean life of prayer. The coming of the Christ did not so upend the world that all that was old was immediately abolished or cast aside. As the NT repeatedly asserts, the original mission of the disciples was to the Jews, the scattered children of God. Therefore, they had to continue, in so far as possible, their old religious and ritual lives to reach out to the Jews. The three o’clock hour of prayer was one aspect of this. The ninth watch, or three o’clock hour, was the time of an evening sacrifice.[1] The sacrifice is commanded by Exodus 29:38-42 and Numbers 28:1-8. That it took place at the ninth watch, by Roman reckoning, is reported by Josephus. [2] Daniel 9:21, shows that it was known as a time of prayer. This last point is important. The disciples no longer participate in the sacrifices; their lamb has been sacrificed once and for all. However, they still pray and, seemingly, recognize in the Temple liturgy a visible sign of Jesus.

Outside the Gate

On their way to pray, Peter and John encounter a disabled man outside the Beautiful Gate. The identity of this gate is unknown, and it seems not to make a difference in the story; although, some have speculated on which gate it was. [3] Sitting outside the gate may seem strange to us, or come across as mere begging, but is a wonderful symbolic depiction of Israel. The disabled man is ritually unclean and thus excluded from the full life of Israel. [4] According to Leviticus 21:16-18, a crippled man could not approach the Temple to offer sacrifice. By remaining outside the gate, this man was a stark reminder to all who passed by of the brokenness of Israel. Not all who professed the God of Israel were allowed full participation in the community. Many were still excluded and had no hope of being included. The promises God had made to Abraham and his descendants, to build up a mighty nation and light to the world, free of suffering, had not been fulfilled. With the coming of Jesus, this will change.

Rise Up and Enter the Gates

The disciples cannot give the disabled man silver or gold; instead, they have something much better. They can give him the fulfillment of the promises to Abraham and his descendants. They speak, and by the authority of Jesus, the disabled man is healed. The once crippled man leaps and walks into the Temple. He is no longer outside the gate; he is within it. Which is to say, he is no longer excluded from the community of Israel but has been liberated from his personal exile and joined to God’s people. This is an essential element of the works of Jesus. Jesus does not heal only bodily infirmity, but he builds up and restores the community. Jesus’ goal is the building up of the Kingdom of God, the fulfillment of all the promises made to Abraham and the patriarchs. Now, no one will be excluded from the community of God’s people except by their own choice. That Peter and John are the instruments of this deed, means that the work of Jesus continues.[5] His visible absence is mere appearance. He continues to work in and through his followers to draw all people into his kingdom.

[1] Luke Timothy Johnson, The Acts of the Apostles, ed. Daniel J. Harrington, vol. 5, Sacra Pagina Series (Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 1992), 64.
[2] Flavius Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews 14:65.
[3] Johnson, 65.
[4] Ibid. 64-65
[5] Ibid. 71