Currently, on the political horizon of the United States is a movement against the poor. President 45 and his administration have decided the most vulnerable population in America can “just eat cake.” This mindset signals one of the latest decisions of the new administration – the dismantling of one of America’s most utilized social programs, Meals on Wheels (established nationally in 1974). Globally, Meals on Wheels was established to provide a small portion of dignity to those who should be able to access what every human being deserves: sustenance.
When asked whether the cuts in the new budget were “hard-hearted,” a top advisor of the Trump administration said: “I don’t think so. I think it’s probably one of the most compassionate things we can do.” (NYmagazine.com2017)
So, a disdain for the poor is nothing new. As we look at the narrative of Acts 9, we notice widows (women who had no male agencies that would share the wealth of the patriarchal system) are at the center of this story. Tragically, this social construct of the world has not changed, as the majority of the world’s poor are still women and children.
And Now, THE WORD from Our Sponsor……………………………………………………………………
Acts 9: 36-42 (NRSV)
Now, in Joppa there was a disciple whose name was Tabitha, which in Greek is Dorcas. She was devoted to good works and acts of charity (love). At that time she became ill and died. When they had washed her, they laid her in a room upstairs. Since Lydda was near Joppa, the disciples who heard that Peter was there, sent two men to him with the request, “Please come to us without delay.” So Peter got up and went with them; and when he arrived, they took him to the room upstairs. All the widows stood beside him, weeping and showing tunics and other clothing that Dorcas had made while she was with them. Peter put all of them outside, and then he knelt down and prayed. He turned to the body and said, “Tabitha, get up.” Then she opened her eyes, and seeing Peter, she sat up. He gave her his hand and helped her up. Then calling the saints and the widows, he showed her to be alive. This became known throughout Joppa, and many believed in the Lord.
As we enter into the story of Tabitha, we encounter the divine irrationality of God. Are we, 21st century Christians, to believe that Peter, the fisherman, who denied Jesus three times and abandoned Jesus at the cross, brought a woman who means everything to a band of widows back to life? Of course, the answer is “Yes!” The text asks us to suspend our own reality based rationality and believe miracles are not only possible; but, probable with Jesus.
Tabitha, obviously a leader in her community, made such an impact with her ministry that her sudden death prompted the empowerment, determination, and courage of those who were deemed by their society as powerless and useless. Yet, Tabitha’s presence, position, and power in her community was a disruption of the societal norm. We understand this by the use of the word “disciple,” to describe her. The word “disciple” is used 294 times in Scripture (281 times in the New Testament); but, IT IS USED ONLY ONCE IN ALL OF SCRIPTURE TO DESCRIBE A WOMAN.
It was Tabitha (Dorcas), the gazelle, who informed the widows of Joppa of the hope of a new age through the work of her hands. This new ethos, ushered in by the mission and message of Jesus, was life giving and life saving. This new understanding of the kingdom of God (Acts 4:32-35) was 1st presented by Jesus within a Jewish context; but, in the 1st century after His death and resurrection, “The Way” was open to all who simply believed in the power of His name. These believers, including Tabitha and her sister circle, understood the name of Jesus bears the same life and death defying power, as the Creator of the entire universe. Here is Holy Ghost power which breaks the burden of these women’s despair and hopelessness, through the acts of charity of Tabitha.
In this new Christian community, as incited by the Holy Spirit, “no one stays in their “expected” place. Common fishermen preach in the Temple. Paralyzed old men get up and walk, and a woman called Dorcas, the gazelle, creates a [social] welfare program among the women of Joppa.” (Interpretation, A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching)
At work to create change in her community, Tabitha builds a new configuration of power in which God “uses the lowly and the despised in the world to bring to the fore the things that ought to be.” (Interpretation, A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching)
Tabitha who may have been a widow herself (there is no mention of husband or family) shares all that she has with the widows. The reference to an upper room, in her story, could possibly point to Tabitha’s access to wealth/prosperity, i.e., a pool of resources that she shared with her community.
In any case, this gazelle was busy. She restored the dignity of the widows by providing “tunics (undergarments) and outer garments for the women. Not only did she give these clothes to them; she made the garments with her own hands. Therefore, the gazelle descriptive, used by Luke, is intentional. Obviously, the mission of Tabitha is meant to convict the Lukan audience and move us into action for those in need. This woman who put feet to her faith, mirrors the life which all believers should seek. Even in death, Tabitha’s life could not be silenced. The widows wept so loud over the loss of their dear Tabitha, Peter put them out of the upper room to do his healing work. Their emotional outpouring testifies to who and what Tabitha was to them in their community. The miracle of her resurrection is the witness and testimony to the effect that one person can make in this world.
Tabitha’s life demonstrates to all who read her story that joy emerges from giving oneself to others in service. Instead of talk, loving service builds community through purposeful action. It also teaches us that what we do, instead of who we think we are, is what truly matters. A woman clothing other women changed the world, and thus earned the most respected title for Tabitha in Christianity: a disciple of Christ. Now, that’s what you call GIRL POWER, for real!
In the book, “A Course of Miracles,” a miracle is defined as: “A divine intercession from a thought system beyond our own – rearranging our perceptions and thus rearranging the world.” In the story of Tabitha, the world is changed. There are two miracles in the story. The first is obvious – the miracle of Tabitha’s resurrection. Tabitha, through the power of the Holy Spirit, with Apostle Peter as the vessel, is brought back to life from the dead. The second miracle is less apparent. It is the miracle of participation. The widows, through their love for their friend, willingly shed their resignation and hopelessness, and become true agents of Tabitha’s miracle. They act with love and courage. They step out on their faith. They release their fear for purposeful communal action. Their “all hands on deck – can do” attitude release them from fear to love. This love, in part, raised Tabitha from the dead. The lesson from this wonderful story is this: ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE FOR US, AS THE COMMUNITY OF CHRIST, IF WE ONLY BELIEVE AND ACT IN THE NAME OF JESUS!
“Little miracles, they happen every day.” Luther Van Dross
“You must live in the present, launch yourself on every wave, and find eternity in each moment.’ Henry David Thoreau
“This is the Lord’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes.” (Psalms 118:23)
“Only what we DO for Christ will last.”(unknown)
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