Acts 3:4 Peter, along with John, looked at him intently and said, “Look at us.”
The response to seeing something we’re not looking for is always different than if we were first looking for it.
We’ve launched a number of Invisible Neighbor studies in our city in the last few years. Published by the Association of Gospel Rescue Missions, the study is intended to engage the church in dialogue about that “invisible neighbor” in poverty or homeless.
You might be surprised how easily the poor are literally overlooked. Check out this video created by the New York City Rescue Mission.
Ok. So we’re not looking. At best we might be seeing, but we’re not really looking.
There’s a difference. Seeing is more passive, receptive and can occur without a thought of looking.
Looking is active, external and purposeful.
When you see the manifestation of poverty in a person’s life, it might elicit the emotions of fear, pity or sometimes judgment. Often it’s a combination. They’re mostly coping mechanisms; emotional walls thrown up in response to a subliminal awareness of human commonality and that this wrecked life you’re seeing is not so far removed from yours. We don’t want to believe that human life is so fragile any of us could end up half naked, paralyzed, and dragging ourselves through manure on a dusty road or in America, drunk in a dark alley and half frozen with hepatitis.
Can you see that? What do you feel?
Seeing is a passive receptive activity that leaves us to feel something. The response to seeing something we’re not looking for is always different than if we were first looking for it.
So, what if we looked? How would our response differ? The answer to that depends on how we look, the quality of it. It’s possible, with good intention, to go look for and search out the impoverished so you can lend yourself to the cause of justice or righting the wrongs of poverty and yet still miss what God really wants you to see.
Peter and John got it. They looked and saw. Some versions say they “looked intently” on this poor paralytic at the gate called Beautiful. Others say, they “fixed their eyes” on the man.
The Greek is ἀτενίζω atenízō; To look fixedly, gaze intently. The root is teínō, stretch, strain.
What is it to strain when looking?
Remember when Jesus had been taken on the night of His betrayal? If you recall, Peter followed and was watching from a distance by a fire. A girl was there and she “looked intently” at him. “This man was with him, too!” she said. Imagine yourself there trying to make out Peter’s face, examining him in the light of a fire. atenízō
Recall 40 days after Jesus resurrected, He ascended. The disciples “gazed intently” into the sky before two angels addressed them, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up into heaven?” Any one of us would have, too, been searching the clouds in amazement. atenízō
And before Stephen was stoned to death, while the religious leaders were screaming at him and gnashing their teeth, Stephen “gazed intently“ into heaven and saw the glory of God. What incredible focus! atenízō
When you look at someone whose life is ravaged by poverty, is it atenízō-looking? Do you examine him for who he is, search him for what’s hidden, focus on him as the center of your attention?
Peter and John did. They looked at the paralytic and they saw the impossible; a man who had never stood on his own feet, leaping and praising God. (v.8). Thousands of lives were eternally impacted that day.
The next time you pass someone whose impoverished circumstances repulse your senses, do more than just notice him or throw alms. Stop and look. It could be the beginning of a miracle.