Tuesday, April 23, 2013

T is for Tabitha who built a church with a sewing needle

A Devotional by Margot Cioccio

“What God has cleansed you must not call common.” Acts 10:15

Acts 9:36-43
Dorcas Restored to Life
36 At Joppa there was a certain disciple named Tabitha, which is translated Dorcas. This woman was full of good works and charitable deeds which she did. 37 But it happened in those days that she became sick and died. When they had washed her, they laid her in an upper room. 38 And since Lydda was near Joppa, and the disciples had heard that Peter was there, they sent two men to him, imploring him not to delay in coming to them. 39 Then Peter arose and went with them. When he had come, they brought him to the upper room. And all the widows stood by him weeping, showing the tunics and garments which Dorcas had made while she was with them. 40 But Peter put them all out, and knelt down and prayed. And turning to the body he said, “Tabitha, arise.” And she opened her eyes, and when she saw Peter she sat up. 41 Then he gave her his hand and lifted her up; and when he had called the saints and widows, he presented her alive. 42 And it became known throughout all Joppa, and many believed on the Lord. 43 So it was that he stayed many days in Joppa with Simon, a tanner.

Today we have a woman who's creativity and service managed to sew her way into the pages of the bible and into history. She is not called a widow or a just mentioned as a woman in passing. She is called a disciple. She is one who whole heartedly follows Jesus. What's more she is famous in the region for her kindness to the widows and the poor. She is known for helping the marginalized of society in a time when there were no real safety nets for built into Roman and Greek societies. Many people turned away from their families when they became believers. This would leave them without land, work or income. Many became beggars who were trusting God to meet their needs for their daily bread. For many the cost of following Christ was huge because they lost their standing in their family or with the family patron. "A ptochos, however, refers to a person reduced to begging, that is, someone who is destitute of all resources, especially farm and family. One gives alms to a ptochos. A penes, who has little wealth yet has “sufficiency,” is not called “poor” in the same sense of the term.

One historian says of the ptochos: “The ptochos was someone who had lost many or all of his family and social ties. He often was a wanderer, therefore a foreigner for others, unable to tax for any length of time the resources of a group to which he could contribute very little or nothing at all.” Thus the “begging poor” person is bereft of all social support as well as all means of support."~ Jerome H. Neyrey

Tabitha was so known for her good deeds and her care of the poor. The widows come to Peter weeping and showing him the things she had made for them. Why he does not simply do a funeral for Tabitha kind of stretches me. Peter prays for her and says "Tabitha, arise" and she comes back to life.

We don't know Tabitah's economic status. It is likely that she was a widow since there is no mention of her husband. She was able to sew and did practical things to help others. Sometimes we get the mistaken idea that we need to become a great teacher, or evangelist, or some really special gift like prophecy to really do great things for God. In this example Tabitha is a disciple who has put the teaching of Christ to work in her life in practical ways. She may not have had great resources to draw upon but she had a needle and tread and some skill at sewing and what she could do was make garments for those in need.

You may not think you have a lot to offer to Jesus in ways to serve and benefit the kingdom. Dorcas had the gifts of compassion and mercy and she expressed it through making clothes for the needy.

We don't hear what becomes of her after she is raised from the dead. We know that she used her tallent for good. We also know that her name was not a Jewish name it was Hellenistic or Grecian. Peter has not begun going to the Gentiles. It is not till chapter 10 he has the vision of the unclean and clean animals in the sheet.

"15 And a voice spoke to him again the second time, “What God has cleansed you must not call common.” 16 This was done three times. And the object was taken up into heaven again."

Then the gentile people in his midst are filled with the Holy Spirit.

Then Peter answered, 47 “Can anyone forbid water, that these should not be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” 48 And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord.

I have to think it had to have shaken Peter a bit that God would raise a common, likely gentile woman from the dead. Up till that point the mission was to convert Jews. How can you argue with God about who he choses to raise from the dead and who he fills with His Holy Spirit. Sometimes we want to keep God in the box of our particular religious paradigm. Peter was content to minister to Jews but then God started to move among the Gentiles. In Peters mind those Gentiles were like the unclean animals in the sheet. “What God has cleansed you must not call common.” The Holy Spirit had moved in the heart of Tabetha and she was well known for her good works and charitable deeds. There is still a church in that area. She was one of the key players in its formation, her kindness put the place on the biblical map, where it still stands to day. She built a church with a sewing needle.
What gift might you use to build up the church where God has placed you?

You may feel your talents and gifts to be very common and ordinary but if you allow the Holy Spirit to lead you he will take your common gift and multiply it to feed the multitudes, in much the same way as Jesus did with two loves and fishes from a young boys sack lunch.

“What God has cleansed you must not call common.” Acts 10:15


1 comment:

  1. Margot,
    I haven't stopped by for a while...too busy...so I'm thankful to be able to go back and read what I've missed. I will do that! Thanks for writing about these folks who paved the way before us. Have a wonderful day!


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