The story of Tabitha, also known as Dorcas, is an important story. Tabitha is a disciple who walks the walk. She has a distinct devotion to doing good works and performing acts of charity. She is committed to helping others—and not just at certain times, the way some folks might hit the homeless shelters or give food to the food pantries around Thanksgiving and Christmas. Tabitha’s devotion is consistent. She is a follower of Jesus in all areas of her life.
This consistent devotion makes quite an impact on the lives of those around her. When Tabitha dies, her community of believers is stricken by the void left in their world. But the widows of her congregation don’t just cry out for her; they also display her good works for all to see. In death, her great love for serving God’s people speaks for her.
What a testimony! Even when we are rendered silent, God is able to speak through us. God’s love is evident because we have been faithful to answer the call to serve. God’s love is evident because we have loved our neighbor AS OURSELVES!
While the story appears to revolve around Tabitha, it’s also a story about Peter. When Tabitha dies, the disciples send word to Peter that he should hurry to Joppa without delay. She is already dead, yet it’s an urgent call.
Is the call for Peter to come pay his respects and mourn with the people before they lay this faithful servant to rest? Or have the disciples heard about the other miracles that Peter has performed? Are they hoping for and expecting a miracle?
We don’t really know, but it’s clear that Peter’s presence is important. He walked and talked with Jesus; he witnessed the miracles of the master, and actually took part in some of them, like walking on water with Jesus. Peter is the one who addressed a multicultural crowd at Pentecost, and the word of God was spread throughout the land. So, if the disciples were to call anyone during a grave and urgent moment, it would be Peter.
Peter gets up immediately and goes. Just as Jesus, before healing someone or performing a miracle, began by having compassion, even crying at the grave of Lazarus, Peter has compassion for those impacted by Tabitha and her own compassionate works. She is dead, but the evidence of her work still lives—in the material goods shown by the widows, and in the tears they shed at her passing. Peter notices. He is a true disciple, an unwavering, faithful disciple and student of Jesus and a faithful follower in his footsteps. Gone are the days when he floundered or feared.
I imagine that in our Gospel reading, when Jesus spoke of the works he was performing in the name of the Father, Peter was nearby listening. So when the time comes for Peter to step up to the plate, he is ready.
There are at least three details about Peter’s actions that point to the fact that he is a true follower of Jesus.
First, before he gets down to business, Peter has to put some people out of the room. This is exactly what Jesus did in Mark’s telling of the raising of Jairus’ daughter from the dead (chapter 5:40). In both cases, it’s unclear why the people are told to leave. What is clear is that these people are not optimistic. Yes, they are weeping and wailing as was the custom. However, in the Jairus story, some of them even laugh at Jesus.
Peter is confident in the power of God through Jesus the Christ, but I wonder if he also knows the value of having people around with the right attitude. Remember, when Jesus went to his hometown, he could perform no miracles? He was simply the hometown boy. The right attitude conveys that God is in control no matter what the situation looks like, no matter what folks think about the servant that God sends to do his bidding.
We need to remember this—because the stakes are too high, the road is too long. And, today and tomorrow are too important to allow a negative personal attitude or a personal lack of faith or spiritual immaturity to permeate the atmosphere and situation in which God’s servant is called to act.
Second, Peter kneels down to pray. He doesn’t take the typical prayer posture of his time, standing with arms and eyes raised to heaven. He kneels, like Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus knelt and demonstrated his submission to God. Does Peter kneel as a way of following Jesus? Or perhaps it is for emphasis: that the work of God is not confined by traditional postures of any kind. Whatever the reason, Peter submits himself to the Lord in humility and devotion, with his petition through prayer. Peter kneels in submission to God, and Tabitha is raised by God through his servant Peter’s faithful service.
Finally, Peter spends the remainder of his time in Joppa with Simon, a tanner. By the way, this would not be the most relaxing or attractive place to stay. Imagine the dead animal skins, the odor. Imagine the kind of work that must be done to what remains of the animals. But, I’m sure Peter remembers that Jesus stayed in the most unlikely places. And it is here in the home of Simon the tanner that Peter will receive a vision that will greatly impact the body of Christ. God can show up in the most unusual places.
Contrary to our individual or even corporte aesthetic sensibilities, God does not dwell solely in the most beautiful churches or cathedrals. There are times it would be a wonder if he dwelt there at all! Being a disciple is not just about the miracles we see and experience. It is about seeing God in the ordinary places that might not look so attractive or likely. It is about allowing God to work in our lives, no matter where we are or what’s going on, or who God sends! God can show up in the least likely places and perform wonders even in situations that appear dormant or dead, or at least not to our personal liking.
Being a true disciple of Jesus means knowing that God is still active in our lives, in our churches, and in our communities. There is no place that God will not show up when God wants to act with love, compassion, healing, and redemption. But God needs willing and faithful disciples to take care of the sheep.
Do you remember last week’s Gospel reading, when Jesus asks Peter three times: Do you love me? When Peter says yes, Jesus tells him, “Feed my sheep, feed my lambs, tend my sheep. The Great Shepherd Jesus was casting his mantel of the shepherding the sheep on Peter. And in the raising of Tabitha or Dorcas as she was also known, Peter shows Jesus how much he loves him in becoming a shepherd.
Are we willing to be used in any and all situations? Can God depend upon us to do God’s bidding, maybe even being the vehicle for a miracle, or one who supports and serves God’s ministry of love? Amen.
*Resources: “Living By The Word,” Lisa D. Jenkins, The Christian Century, April 24, 2019.