Acts, Chapters 3 and 4 (NRSV)
After Jesus ascends into heaven, the Church, his body on Earth, continues his work. In these two chapters of Acts, Luke is clearly drawing parallels between what Jesus did in the days leading up to his Passion and what his followers are now doing.
In the opening of the 3rd chapter Peter and John heal a beggar at the Beautiful Gate of the Temple - a place where Jesus did much of his teaching, and taught in a way that is very much like his healings. The key difference here is that Jesus did the healings as a sign that he was the Messiah. In the story in the Acts of the Apostles, Peter and John invoke the name of Jesus - to prove that Jesus is who he said he was. The teaching that follows makes this point clear to the people who are astonished at what has happened.
The next day there is a meeting of the same group of people who had condemned Jesus to die. Peter confronts the religious leaders in the same way that Jesus did during his earthly ministry. Peter quotes scripture (did you notice the quote again about the cornerstone that was rejected?), and confounds the critics with his arguments and the signs that have been performed. The religious leaders are unable to respond directly to the challenges made by Peter and John and instead order them to keep quiet. Both Peter and John refuse - they must speak. Finally, the believers gather together to pray to God, asking God to continue to empower their proclamation of the Gospel by signs of healing and restoration so that the Gospel will be believed. It's all very familiar sounding isn't it?
This is Luke's point. The Church, the Body of Christ, is active in the world, continuing the work of Jesus until history draws to a close. The parallels are obvious and intentional. We'll see them even more strongly as we read on over the next few weeks.
So where are you and I in all this? We are, by virtue of our baptism, part of the Body of Christ. Unless you want to argue, as some have, that the responsibility to continue Christ's work on Earth in the way we read about in Acts was only something that God expected to happen for a short while, then how are we doing what the apostles did in their own day? Are we healing? Are we proclaiming? Are we gathering together and praying that God will make our proclamation more effective?
Healings take many forms. Sometimes they are as dramatic and obvious as the healing of the beggar that is described in the text we just read. Sometimes they are less externally obvious - like the healing of Paul that we'll soon be reading about. Sometimes they take a long time from start to end. Have you ever seen any healings done? Have you been healed? Have you been restored to a fuller life?
Actually, I know many people in the Church who have been healed by their faith, or by the faith of others, but I don't know how many of us have seen those healings for the signs they were - or have seen that the Church is the sign that Christ is still active in the world, restoring all things. I'm not even sure we recognize that the healings we witness, or personally experience, are always from God and meant for a purpose.
When people in the early centuries of the Church complained that Jesus' miracles weren't very impressive, the teachers always countered that Jesus did every miracle, every sign for a reason. He wasn't showing off, he was teaching us about the nature of God and God's Kingdom. The healings we see today, what are they teaching us about God? What is the reason that they have happened?