At least the gate was called Beautiful for a reason, and it gave him something to look at, something to look up to. He had no place in the Temple itself, he was a helpless cripple and couldn’t get up the steps, but each day his friends would carry him to his spot by the gate, and there he would beg. And (he was trying hard to be positive here) it was a good place to beg. People went into the temple feeling guilty and seeking God’s favour; people came out of the temple feeling right with the world and at peace. Both states of mind could be great motivators for generosity. Or not.
A man who crouches there, in his beggar’s rags, by one of the busiest places in the city, and a place which attracts both rich and poor and almost all the visitors from other places, overhears more than most, and gets to feel the mood and tenor of the city as instinctively as a doctor taking a pulse. What else did he have to occupy his mind? And the mood of the city was not tranquil. Always, always, at least in his lifetime, there had been the steady chafing of the Roman presence, but it was the kind of chafing a man learns to live with and make the best of, like a rough wool cloak that irritates the skin but keeps out the biting cold. But this was a new unrest. He remembered the rumours that had flown around just before Passover, when Jesus of Nazareth had entered the city on a donkey – a gesture that meant nothing to the Romans, but sang with Messianic significance to the Israelites. Could this be the one? Could he?
But no, within less than a week they were calling for his death, and the results were enough to make a crippled beggar shudder. Crucified, dead and buried, this Jesus, and Roman order had been restored and the Passover crowds had behaved themselves. The next rumour was slower to spread: it was whispered rather than shouted, as if no one quite knew what to do with it. But in a town like Jerusalem tales of empty tombs and overwhelmed soldiers don’t keep secret forever, and there was much muttering and nervous glancing over shoulders. And then, at Pentecost, everything changed again ..
He shifted position slightly to try to ease the constant, wearing pain, then reached out his hands in supplication as he saw two friendly-looking men approaching. Using the traditional beggar’s whine (did people realise how humiliating that was?) he wheedled for money. They neither hurried past ignoring him, or threw a stray coin at him. Instead they stopped right there, turned and looked him full in the face. Very few people ever did that – and a man notices when he is something from which men turn away their eyes. “Look at us!” said the taller one, and he gazed at them in expectation.
“I don’t have any silver or gold to give you.” He paused, and the cripple, disappointed, felt as if his very soul was being searched. But the man hadn’t finished. “I will give you what I do have, though. In the name of Jesus of Nazareth, rise up and walk!”
This was not at all what he had expected, and he sat there stunned. Besides, he didn’t know how to get up and walk! But these people weren’t just empty words. A strong hand, calloused by fishing nets, reached out to him and pulled him up. Immediately his feet and ankles were strong, and his pain was gone. Tentatively, he tried walking a few steps, expecting his legs to buckle under him any second – but they didn’t! So excited, he walked, ran, leapt, dancing around in wonder like a little child, straight into the temple precincts. Many people recognised him, and were amazed at his transformation. And a new rumour, sweet as the promise of heart’s desire, ran through the streets of Jerusalem.