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. 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 widows, he showed her to be alive. This became known throughout Joppa, and many believed in the Lord. Meanwhile he stayed in Joppa for some time with a certain Simon, a tanner.
It appears as a little throw-away story at the end of chapter 9, with similarities to others like Jesus reviving the widow’s son at Nain… and Jairus’ daughter…and Lazarus… and the Old Testament too – the Jewish people of the day would see parallels with Elisha and Elijah. So why include it in Acts? We don’t know much about Tabitha, though it seems she was a woman with money which she used to support her ministry. We do know there were a few financially well-off women who were benefactors of the early Christian movement and their generosity enabled the travelling disciples to spread Christ’s message far and wide. Perhaps Tabitha was a business woman like Lydia, it seems she was free to spend her money as she pleased, and she used it to serve Christ and her neighbours. She was a loved and much-respected disciple of Christ and when she became sick and died, people were devastated – especially those whom Luke the author calls ‘the widows’ (society’s poorest).
Perhaps Luke intended this story to establish Peter as a key Christian leader. Or perhaps there’s another message for 21st century disciples: Tabitha used her wealth and privilege to prioritise the needs of the poorest people in her community and ensured their basic needs were met. While the Bible story says Tabitha’s resurrection inspired many more people to follow Jesus, I reckon her generosity and believer’s heart had already taught many an important lesson about Jesus as she cared for those vulnerable widows.
Tabitha’s story reminds us that life can be restored through an action as simple as sewing a garment for one who has nothing.
When we, like Tabitha, use our privilege and wealth to serve and advocate for our poverty-stricken neighbours – at home and far away – we are living out our discipleship and sharing our faith through action in the 21st century.
Lord Help us to understand that our actions, generosity, compassion, empathy, and the way we lead our lives every day are all ways in which others can see that we are your disciples today. Help us to put our faith into action using our wealth and our privilege to serve the most vulnerable people in our society. Help us to share our faith in everything we do Amen
Linda Rayner, Elder at Bramhall URC and URC Coordinator for fresh expressions