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Daily Devotions from Fourth Presbyterian Church

Wednesday, May 4, 2022  

Today’s Scripture Reading  |  Acts 9:36–43

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. (NRSV)

So much in this story blows my mind. For starters, Tabitha is the only person in the New Testament for whom the word disciple is in the feminine form. Second, she and her sisters in life are widows—the literal bottom of the rung of their society. They have no one to represent them or to protect them. Third, Tabitha has given her very life to “good works and acts of charity.” She has what appears to be a cottage industry of weaving and sewing. She launches an affordable welfare system for those who have nothing. In this very short passage, we catch a glimpse of the new community that is arising from the power of the risen Lord, Jesus Christ. The old order is crumbling, not by political or social movement, but by the bold life of a widow who steps out of her accustomed role and weaves her way into God’s new community of women and men.

As I read this story, I thought of Marge Piercy’s poem “For Strong Women,” which includes these lines:

A strong woman is a woman determined
to do something others are determined
not be done . . . She is trying to raise
a manhole cover with her head, she is trying
to butt her way through a steel wall.

I would say that Tabitha and her widow sisters raised the manhole cover with their heads—they butt their way through a steel wall! Yes, after Tabitha died, her widow-sisters called for Peter to come. They trusted the extraordinary power of Christ they witnessed in Tabitha’s life and made manifest in the Apostle Peter, which would turn death to life. They must have realized that the resurrected Jesus could slip through all the barriers that seemed so absolute. You could say those widows refused to stay in the fixed order of things. They knew the subversive order of a new age, an age where all logic and assumed norms are swept up in the promise of God to raise them up in ways that are simply unimaginable.

I give thanks for sister disciple Tabitha. And I know she continues to inspire countless ones of us who refuse to assume that the order of life is fixed. God’s power shifts the equation. And from the death chamber new life emerges!

Hold this world in the sure strength of those sisters and brothers who defied the absolutes of their culture to awaken your new day, O God! For yours is the power and the glory, forever and ever! Amen.

Written by Lucy Forster-Smith, Senior Associate Pastor for Leadership Development and Adult Education

Reflection and prayer © Fourth Presbyterian Church

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