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  • Writer's picturePastor Brett

A Deserving Woman

Acts 9:36-43

          Mitzi Bockmann is an NYC-based Certified Life Coach who works exclusively with women.  This February, she published an article entitled “5 Tiny Personality Traits of People Who Make The Best Moms.”  Her advice struck me as being unusual and interesting, so I want to share them with you briefly as we begin our look at the life, death, and resurrection of Tabitha.

          1. Self-awareness.  “A woman who knows herself knows both her strengths and her weaknesses. She uses her strengths to her advantage and knows what to do to manage her weaknesses.  A woman who knows herself, who has accepted and understands her past and her relationship with her parents, is a woman who can raise children without passing on baggage from her childhood.”

          2. Intuitiveness.  "As mothers, we know instinctively what to do, so we must listen to our gut. It is your job, as a mother, to gather information from wherever you can and then use your gut to decide whether to use it or not.”

          3. Active listening.  “Listening and truly hearing means stepping outside of your own experience and listening for listening's sake, and then not necessarily responding. So many kids feel like they aren't heard by their parents. So, make an effort to listen to your child. Make sure they know you are there for them and will listen to them without judgment and without trying to fix them.”

          4. Collaborative.  “Women with the ability to share their workload with the father of their children make the best, most effective moms. Share the burden — and the joy — with your kids’ father. Everyone will be glad that you did.”

          5. Ability to advocate (rather than enable).  So many parents want to fight their kid's battles for them, but doing so doesn't allow them to learn the skills they need to be successful adults. So, let them trip and fall. Catch them, but don’t prop them up.” (YourTango.com)

          Our text this morning focuses on a woman named Tabitha who may or may not have been a mom but was celebrated in her community by the many nurturing things she did for the most vulnerable people in her town.  She was a believer whose faith found expression in her hands - she worked hard to help needy souls.

Tabitha had distinguished herself by doing good deeds.  She was rewarded by being restored to life.

1. Tabitha was a beloved doer of good deeds. (36-37)

          Most importantly, Tabitha was A BELIEVER. (36)  The Greek word translated as BELIEVER is literally “female disciple.”  This is the only New Testament use of this word.  I wonder if Luke chose this word to imply Tabitha was a special person or to draw attention to her case.  It can be said that in terms of miraculous healings in Acts, Tabitha’s being raised from the dead is the climax, the most miraculous.

          Both of her names can be translated “gazelle,” (36) but I can find no significance to that translation that informs our interpretation of this passage.  TABITHA = her Aramaic name, DORCAS her Greek name.  To mention both names is not uncommon but to use them interchangeably in the narrative is.  This may be Luke’s way of showing how ethnically diverse Joppa was.

          Note the kind words used to describe Tabitha.  Her faith and activity on behalf of the needy make me wonder if she wasn’t thereby more “deserving” of a miracle.  Luke wrote SHE WAS ALWAYS DOING GOOD THINGS FOR OTHERS, particularly HELPING THE POOR.  Verse 39 gives us an example of her good deeds: the weeping widows showed Peter THE COATS AND OTHER CLOTHES DORCAS HAD MADE FOR THEM.

          These descriptions imply she had time and money to do these things.  Somehow, God made her wealthy enough to be self-sufficient and spiritually mature enough to use her resources in service to God by helping people.

          Upon her death, the church showed Tabitha the respect she deserved, following the customs of the time.  First, HER BODY WAS WASHED FOR BURIAL: Jewish customs of the time required washing the body with oil, then rinsing it with water.  After that, it was anointed with spices and perfumes, wrapped in a sheet, and put in a tomb.

          There is nothing said here about anointing the body with spices and perfumes, as the women intended to do to Jesus’ body.  Perhaps they held off on that step because someone had the idea of getting Peter involved.  Why anoint a body for burial when they would soon be alive again?!

          Second, she WAS LAID IN AN UPSTAIRS ROOM. This reminds us of the upper room that served as the place where the Last Supper was held, the same place where the Church was given the Holy Spirit on Pentecost.  It was customary to display the body of the deceased in their home and invite mourners to come and pay their last respects.  It may have been the place where the local church held their meetings.

          That room was FILLED WITH WIDOWS WHO WERE WEEPING. (39)

Note that the UPSTAIRS ROOM (possibly on the roof) was FILLED.  Tabitha’s many kindnesses had endeared her to many people and they turned out to mourn her loss.

          The mourners were WIDOWS.  The primary recipients of the benevolence ministries of the First Church were widows.  Inheritance laws of the time didn’t necessarily include women.  When a woman found herself outside a household because she was not sponsored by a man, she was left destitute, homeless.

          The mourners were WEEPING.  Jewish families were expected to be very demonstrative in their grief, weeping openly and wailing loudly.  Families with money would get out of this responsibility by hiring professional mourners.  (These were the people who ridiculed Jesus when He came to “wake up” Jairus’ daughter.  They were the ones He dismissed from the house before bringing the girl back from the dead.)

2. She had earned the devotion of her church family. (38)

          Having done for her all that custom required, the believers went one step further and hoped for a miracle.  They approached Peter at Lydda and BEGGED HIM to come with them to Joppa.  If they asked anything further of Peter, the text does not record that for us.  Joppa was 11 miles away, a three- or four-hour walk.  This was no small request.

3. God graciously restored her life. (39-41)

          There is a sense of urgency in their actions.  Why?  This question is a key to unlocking the implications of this chapter.  We see this sense of urgency in v. 38, where they’d urged Peter to come with them ASAP.  Sending two people was a typical Jewish custom, as the Law required two witnesses to establish testimony as fact.  In v. 39, AS SOON AS HE ARRIVED, they took Peter to the room where Tabitha’s body lay.

          So, why the rush?  It was not because they were afraid of decomposition of the body.  The believers who figure prominently in this passage are WIDOWS.  They were people who’ve had at least one experience of death and would know how much time they had before decomposition became profound.

          It is possible they interrupted the grieving process to see if Peter would do something for them.  Maybe they were hoping Peter would raise her from the dead.  Their only request of Peter was to accompany them to Joppa (38), so we’ll have to guess at what they hoped would happen.

          In vs. 40-41 Peter fulfilled their hopes by following the example Jesus had set in raising Jairus’ daughter from the dead. (Luke 8:51-56)

After listening to their testimonials of Dorcas’ many kindnesses (39), Peter ASKED THEM ALL TO LEAVE THE ROOM.  This follows Jesus’ example but also has the benefit of making the miracle into some kind of performance.  Jesus did the same.

          Peter KNELT beside the body and PRAYED.  TURNING TO THE BODY (note the word BODY, not her name; this implies the miracle hadn’t yet happened) HE SAID, “GET UP, TABITHA.”  Jesus spoke to Jairus’ daughter in Aramaic, “Talitha koum,” which means, “Little girl, get up.”

          Instantly, her eyes opened, she saw Peter kneeling beside her bed and sat up.  Peter stood and helped Tabitha stand to her feet.  He called everyone back into the room to receive back again their beloved Tabitha.

          The two accounts differ in some of the details but are similar enough to make me wonder if Peter deliberately imitated Jesus’ raising of Jairus’ daughter.  Both accounts are similar to 2 Kings 4:31-37, where the prophet Elijah raised to life the dead son of the Woman of Shunem.

4. God graciously strengthened His church. (42-43)

          One effect of Tabitha’s resurrection was that THE NEWS SPREAD THROUGH THE WHOLE TOWN of Joppa, with the welcome result that MANY BELIEVED IN THE LORD. (42)  Given all the good Tabitha did, she was probably a well-known person and her death would have been a shock to the community.  Also, I’d think an extraordinary miracle like a resurrection would attract a lot of attention.

          What’s important is that MANY people found faith in Christ because of this miracle.  Throughout Acts, Luke reports the things that made the First Church grow in size.  This is another example of that.

          Another effect was that Peter remained in Joppa. (43)  This sets up Peter’s vision and his historic encounter with Cornelius in Ch. 10.  V. 43 is a transition that shows how these events are linked to one another, how one situation is a consequence of the previous one.

          Acts 10-15 describes a transitionary period in the First Church, a time when the Church went from being a nearly exclusively Jewish sect, to being more and more inclusive of Gentiles.  This verse shows the beginning of that movement.  This is an important context of this passage.  In previous generations, Joppa was a seaport that serviced Jerusalem.  Since then, it had become a primarily Gentile city.  As a pious Jew, Peter would’ve been understandably reluctant to go there at all, let alone stay there. 

          In a similar vein, pious Jews were keen avoid tanners as their work brought them in contact with dead bodies, which made them ceremonially unclean.  Add to that the smell of the tanning solutions (sometimes made with dog feces), and it’s puzzling why Peter would agree to stay in such a place.

          Peter’s making these accommodations to things Jews normally avoided is a hint of what is to come.  Because of a vision and an encounter with a God-fearing Roman centurion, God will pry open Peter’s heart and the Church’s doors to admit the Gentiles as brothers in faith.

Tabitha had distinguished herself by doing good deeds.  She was rewarded by being restored to life.

          Let’s end on a joyous note, with some mom jokes!

          A grown-up son named Lionel finally got around to calling his mother on Mother’s Day.  He greeted her and said, “Happy Mother's Day, Mom!  How are you?”

          “Not too good,” Mom replied, “I’ve been very weak.”

          Truly concerned, the son asked, “Why are you so weak, mother?”

          She said, “Because I haven’t eaten in 23 days.”

          He’s stunned and said, “That’s terrible. Why haven’t you eaten in 23 days?”

          His mother replied, “Because I didn’t want my mouth to be filled with food if you should call.”

          A wise mother passed on this sage advice to her daughter: “Cook a man a fish and you feed him for a day.  But teach a man to fish and you get rid of him for the whole weekend.”

          God is calling all of us to follow the great example Tabitha set, spending ourselves in service to our Savior and in support of His people.  God is also calling us to follow the example set by Peter, calling the spiritually dead to receive life.  When we are faithful to do these things, God is faithful to make us fruitful.

RESOURCES:

          Mitzi Bockmann, https://www.yourtango.com/self/personality-traits-people-make-best-moms, retrieved on 10 May 24.

          Ben Witherington III, The Acts of the Apostles, 1998, pp. 330-333.

          William J. Larkin, Cornerstone Biblical Commentary, Vol. 12, Acts, 2006, pp. 464-467.

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