(AS WE HONOR BLACK HISTORY MONTH)
In 1896, 30 years after the Emancipation Proclamation, The National Association of Colored Women’s Clubs, Incorporated was founded. The NACWC adopted the motto, “Lifting as We Climb, with the intentions and determination to affect the lives of African-Americans through their civic activism. The black women who joined this organization were able to accomplished incredible feats that assisted in raising the African-American standard of living; but also, their civic mindedness went beyond the black community. Unlike other women’s groups which were primarily concerned only for race and gender, (i.e., white suffrage organizations) the NACWC viewed their organization as a way to uplift black women, men, and children; as well as fighting for the suffrage vote for all women and raising monies in the war effort for their country. Here are just some of their many accomplishments:
Raising $5,000,000 in war bonds for (WW 1)
Raising money for kindergartens, libraries, orphanages, & homes for the elderly
Raising awareness around lynching, segregation, and other issues specific to the black community
Providing financial assistance to students who integrated schools through the Jim Crow period
The black women of the NACWC realized that being black in America is too heavy a load for any one person to carry; but, sticks bundled together cannot be broken. Just like the sisterhood who worked together to raise their sister Tabitha, the NACWC understands that women working together can create miracles.
“No race can afford to neglect the enlightenment of its mothers.” – Frances Ellen Watkins Harper (Founder)
And now, THE WORD from Our Sponsor……………………………………………..
(Acts 9: 36-41) – NASB
In Joppa, there was a disciple named Tabitha (in Greek her name is Dorcas); she was always doing good and helping the poor. About that time, she became sick and died, and her body was washed and placed in an upstairs room. Lydda was near Joppa; so when the disciples heard that Peter was in Lydda, they sent two men to him and urged him, “Please come at once.”
Peter went with them, and when he arrived he was taken upstairs to the room. All the widows stood around him, crying and showing him the robes and other clothing that Dorcas made while she was still with them.
Peter sent them all out of the room; then he got down on his knees and prayed. Turning toward the dead woman, he said, “Tabitha, get up.” She opened her eyes, and seeing Peter she sat up. He took her by the hand and helped her to her feet. Then he called for the believers, especially the widows, and presented her to them alive. This became known all over Joppa, and many people believed in the Lord.
“At Joppa, there was a disciple named Tabitha.” Simply, this is how the story of the phenomenon named Tabitha begins. If we are not careful, we will read over the designation “disciple,” and miss a most incredible acknowledgement. Tabitha is the ONLY WOMAN OF SCRIPTURE (Old or New Testament) who is described as a “disciple.” This word is used 274 times in scripture (13 times in the O.T., and 261 times in N.T); with Luke, as the only writer, deciding to honor her with this esteemed title.
Since women, despite the lack of title recognition, were as much disciples (followers) as men, we have to ask ourselves, why does Luke decide to grace only Tabitha with this designation? Perhaps it is because Tabitha was busy creating a new paradigm of empowerment for the community of widows who were under her care. Perhaps it was because Tabitha was using her own resources to clothe women who could not clothe themselves. Perhaps it was because Tabitha was obviously the leader of these women who made the choice, early in the life of the Christian church, to devoutly follow Jesus. We cannot be certain of Luke’s intentions; but, we do understand how important and necessary Tabitha was in this community of women. Obviously, Peter and the men who followed Jesus in Joppa knew this, as well.
In order to understand the importance of Tabitha’s ministry and the fellowship of the women in her sister circle, we need to know something of the city in which she lived. Joppa (Jaffa) was colonized by the Greeks by the time of Acts, and was an important port city on the Mediterranean Sea. Luke, who was writing primarily for a Greek audience (Greek speaking Jews), switches, in the story, from her Aramaic name, Tabitha, to the Greek name, Dorcas. Clearly, in Tabitha’s story, we are aware of the fact these Greek women, like many others, were early supporters of the infant Christian church and took the call of Jesus seriously.
Some scholars suggest Tabitha may have been a widow herself and was a woman of means; however, there is little evidence of this in the text. The indication there was an upper room and a house mentioned in the story, that may have belonged to Tabitha, are suggestions to support this theory; however this is merely conjecture and cannot be substantiated. Regardless of Tabitha’s economic status, we are to understand Tabitha’s ministry was supported, not by the church or the community; but instead, she provided for the widows from HER OWN MEANS. This of great import because it teaches us many times ministry does not start in the church; but, rather, ministry starts with us. Tabitha saw a need and she, alone, reacted to the needs of her community.
We also know this: In the first century, as well as today, women and their children are the majority of the poor. In biblical times, widows were at the bottom of society, and were among those whom starved to death because they lacked male agency to take care of them. Tabitha, the gazelle, answered the vital call to provide ministry for the widows of Joppa. We can assume her ministry went well beyond sewing garments; and probably extended to providing shelter and food to those who relied on her to take care of them. When Tabitha died, her life-giving ministry seemed to die with her; removing the safety net of care which the widows so desperately required and counted on for their existence.
But, DEATH WOULD NOT HAVE THE FINAL SAY! There is a power loose in Tabitha’s community which is able to break into the bonds of poverty. The women who formed this community will not submit to despair, hopelessness, and resignation. In this new Christian community, there is a power beyond themselves and they will not be left to perish. They know the name of Jesus bears the power of resurrection and they are aware of THE DISCIPLE, Peter, who is endowed with the Holy Spirit. This story belongs to Tabitha and her daughters; those who knew then, and know now, there is POWER in the name of Jesus, and they use their power to call on THAT GREAT NAME!
And so, the WORD comes to the widows in the form of the disciple Peter, of whom they summon by engaging the men of their community. Tabitha, by example, has empowered her circle to understand social status has nothing to do with authentic empowerment. Therefore, Tabitha’s daughters do not hesitate. Instead, they shake off paralysis and move in gazelle like action to save the life of their leader.
Peter is summoned by the widows and he comes, walking in the anointing of the Holy Spirit. This is the Spirit of Resurrection, and we are reminded of this when Peter speaks the same words which Jesus spoke to another daughter – Jairus’ daughter. In Aramaic, the language of Jesus, Peter proclaims: “Talitha, cum!” Peter’s actions mimic those of Jesus. Like Jesus, he sends the crowd out of the upper room and he prays to the only power who can raise the dead.
When Tabitha is raised, Peter presents her to the sister circle who assisted in saving her life. The circle of mutuality is complete and we, as well as the widows, are witnesses to the divine irrationality of a mighty Savior. Death is rendered powerless and nothing can remain the same. The sister circle, the “koinonia,” (Communion with God through the fellowship of the saints) is witness to the power of the Holy Spirit and “many people come to believe in the Lord.” Tabitha and her daughters show us, the contemporary sisterhood of Christ, we, too, possess the power of the Resurrection through the wonderful name of Jesus!
QUESTIONS FOR OUR DISCUSSION & CONSIDERATION
How can you (we) take the story of Tabitha and her sister circle and use it in our own venues: the church, community work, family, personal ministries?
Why do you think Luke, who writes more about women than any of Evangelists, gives the title of disciple to ONLY TABITHA?
Thinking about the early church (Tabitha, her sister circle, and the men of Joppa), how does her story inform us of where the church is and where the church must decide to go?
Tabitha is one of the most important women of the New Testament. Her story inspires us to understand authentic ministry produces tangible evidence. The widows brought their garments and tunics to show Peter the evidence of Tabitha’s ministry which, in turn, empowered them to save her life. Through ministry, resurrection is possible because “we lift as we climb.” It also teaches us that ministry often begins with the calling of one individual, who in turn, seeks to collaborate with others, to change circumstances.
“For there was not a needy person among them, for all who were owners of land or houses would sell them and bring the proceeds of the sales.” Acts 4:34
“Peter replied, “you know I love you.” “Then feed my lambs,” Jesus told him. (John 21: 15b)
“There is no exercise better for the heart than reaching down and lifting people up.” – John Holmes
Holy and Wonderful Jesus,
Deliver me to my passion.
(That it might be used to serve my neighbor)
Deliver me to my brilliance.
(That it might be used to serve the needy)
Deliver me to my intelligence
(That it might be used to serve the earth)
Deliver me to my depth
(That it might be used to serve Your church)
Deliver me to my power to heal
(That it might be used to serve the sick)
Deliver me to You.
We call it done, as Tabitha’s Daughters, in the mighty name of Jesus!
(Excerpted from “Illuminata, – A Return to Prayer” – Marianne Williamson
“The enclosed materials are the property of Maxine E. Garrett and Tabitha’s Daughters Bible Empowerment Series. They may be used by you with our permission, which may be revoked at any time. All copies of the materials must include the following notice: “This material is Copyright Maxine E. Garrett and Tabitha’s Daughters and is distributed with our permission.”