Sunday, April 17, 2016

God's Gazelle

 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. - Acts 9:36-42

When she was born, her father named her Tabitha. In Aramaic, her name meant gazelle, a small, slender, graceful member of the antelope family. I'm sure her father saw in her the qualities of the gazelle.

She grew up as Jewish but living in the Greek-speaking city of Joppa, she also answered to Dorcas which had the same meaning as the Aramaic. Joppa, even then, was an ancient and prominent city containing the port of Jerusalem, about 30-35 miles northeast of Jerusalem itself. It is still an important port city.

Like so many others in the Bible, Tabitha/Dorcas only comes to our notice only at one moment in her life, or so we are told. Evidently she was a great-hearted Christian woman, devoting her life to her community and those less fortunate. We don't know when she became Christian, but she embraced the teachings whole-heartedly. Her life was dedicated to good works such as sewing clothing for those in need. The poor, widows, orphans, and the sick were all part of her ministry and beneficiaries of her alms and gifts.

She was beloved by members of her community, so much so that when she died, the disciples in Joppa sent word to Peter who was teaching and healing in a nearby town. To make the story short, Peter arrived, was impressed with the love expressed by the people for Tabitha, then raised her from the dead. The crowd went wild.

Something that struck me was that the raising of Tabitha was very familiar. Matthew, Mark, and Luke all report a somewhat similar incident but the one that I thought of was from Mark 5:41, "He took her by the hand and said to her, “Talitha koum!” (which means “Little girl, I say to you, get up!”). Both Jarius's daughter and Tabitha were beloved people who were devastated by their deaths. Granted one was a young girl while the other was an older woman, but both were loved enough to go out to appeal to a man of God, Jesus or Peter, to help those they loved.  In both of the stories, someone was told to get up; in Mark it was the little girl, (Talitha) and in Acts, Tabitha. They sound very similar but both did as they were told.

The result of both miracles was that not only were two women restored to life but that the faith of those around them grew stronger and even non-believers came to the faith. Tabitha herself has inspired countless women to take up her mission of providing clothing for the poor. Dorcas Societies still exist and the need is still there.

In Acts, Tabitha was named a disciple, a follower of Jesus and a practitioner of what Jesus taught. I wish there had been more about her, how she came to life the life and do the work she did. Like many women of the Bible, she is like a footnote, a miracle with a name attached. Yet she is more than that; she is a woman, a disciple, and an inspiration. The world could use a few more like God's gazelle, Tabitha, also known as Dorcas.

Originally published at Speaking to the Soul at Episcopal Café Saturday, April 16, 2017

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