Sometimes weird stuff happens to me. Last week I was trying to find an angle for preaching from the prescribed lectionary reading from Acts 3:1-10. It told the story of Peter and John healing a man who had been lame his whole life, and giving him a hand to help him stand again. Healing scripture are tricky to preach on because they make it sound like if you just had enough faith, God would heal you. Sigh.
(To listen to the full audio version, click here.)
Anyway, I had settled on the concept of giving others “a hand up” when it occurred to me that the man who was healed probably had an interesting story to share. I hadn’t preached in character in quite a while and decided perhaps it was time to give it a try again. So, it seemed like the first logical thing I should do would be to give this nameless man a name. As I pondered this, the name Shelah just popped into my head. Actually, I wasn’t even sure it was a name so I googled it and sure enough, it is a Hebrew name. Now, here’s the freaky part, the definition said comes from a verb which could be “used in the sense of stretching out, especially of a hand towards something.” I took it as a sign I was on the right track!
As Shelah took shape and character, I found that his brokenness wasn’t just on the outside. Being unable to walk his whole life had put him in the category of the unclean and unwanted. He felt no love from God or his family, or the normal people of the city. The worst part was the indifference. Most people didn’t want to look at him or acknowledge his existence in any way. I was certain that he’d had his share of beatings, ridicule and bad treatment over the years. The brokenness inside from all this was palpable to me as I created his story.
When Peter and John came upon him and commanded that he look at them, this was something that never happened. And as this lame man looked into their eyes, in my mind he saw a depth of love and compassion that he had never experienced before. Being healed physically brought him back into circulation among the “normal” folks, but for me, that look of love helped to heal the brokenness within. And for Shelah, experiencing a love that touched his soul was worth even more than the physical healing.
We’re not Jesus, or Peter and we’re probably not going to make the lame walk anytime soon (I know, I’m a pessimist). But, we can reach out in love and help people to heal inside through caring, compassion, understanding and acceptance.