Care for people who are sick and dying has been part of Christianity from the time of Jesus. The Jewish tradition extends centuries into the past from there. In its rites for Pastoral Care, the Catholic church offers no less than fifty-eight key passages for prayer, reflection, and connection with God.
The third Chapter of Acts is proclaimed from the Wednesday of Easter week. The early disciples have experienced Pentecost, and Peter (2:14-36) preaches on Jesus Christ. As a result, a substantial number are added to the rank of believer (2:37-41) and all these people live in an ideal community free from need or strife (2:42-47).
The ministry of Jesus was laden with healing, and the early church took up this mission with fervor and fruitfulness. The two apostles were heading to prayer, and they encounter a person unable to walk or even stand because of a genetic defect:
Peter and John were going up to the temple area
for the three o’clock hour of prayer.
And a man crippled from birth was carried
and placed at the gate of the temple called “the Beautiful Gate” every day
to beg for alms from the people who entered the temple.
When he saw Peter and John about to go into the temple,
he asked for alms.
Peter is bold, but he recognizes the power to heal is not a magical thing he produces from his own intent. Because of the power of the Resurrection, and the glorification through the power of the Father, God is made manifest through the strengthening of a man’s feet and ankles:
But Peter looked intently at him, as did John,
and said, “Look at us.”
He paid attention to them, expecting to receive something from them.
Peter said, “I have neither silver nor gold,
but what I do have I give you:
in the name of Jesus Christ the Nazorean, rise and walk.”
Then Peter took him by the right hand and raised him up,
and immediately his feet and ankles grew strong.
The response of the man is similar to others we’ve read about in the Gospels:
He leaped up, stood, and walked around,
and went into the temple with them,
walking and jumping and praising God.
When all the people saw him walking and praising God,
they recognized him as the one
who used to sit begging at the Beautiful Gate of the temple,
and they were filled with amazement and astonishment
at what had happened to him.
And witnesses to this act, react as did many others who encountered the risen Lord: with “amazement and astonishment.”
Often we may fear: what about those times when we ask for healing but people remain sick or they die? My sense is that this account in Acts is not so much about the unnamed person and this his malady has been vanquished. The point is the role of Jesus in salvation history. The power of Jesus is not confined to physical realities. He does not endorse magical healers to act in his stead. He calls us all, ill and minister alike, to deeper faith.
In citing the 16th Psalm in his earlier speech, Peter delivers the essential meaning of ministry to the sick:
You have made known to me the paths of life;
you will fill me with joy in your presence. (Acts 2:28.Psalm 16:11)
It is not (necessarily ) a path out of illness to health, but a path of life. If we know the nearness of the Lord, trusting in his close companionship to us in all our trials, then we can acclaim with the Psalmist in the midst of our lament, “You will fill me with joy.”
For an in-depth treatment of the Pastoral Care rites, check this page that outlines our examination from a decade ago.