Tabitha Among the Living

Acts 9:36-41*

36 There was a believer in Joppa named Tabitha (which in Greek is Dorcas). She was always doing kind things for others and helping the poor. 37 In those days she became ill and died, and when they had washed her, they laid her in an upper room. 38 Since Lydda was near Joppa, the disciples, hearing that Peter was there, sent two men to him, urging him, “Please come to us without delay.” 39 So Peter rose and went with them. And when he arrived, they took him to the upper room. All the widows stood beside him weeping and showing tunics and other garments that Dorcas made while she was with them. 40 But Peter put them all outside, 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 And he gave her his hand and raised her up. Then calling the saints and widows, he presented her alive.

My name is Tabitha. I've been ill for some time, and I don't know if I have much time left. Let me tell you, as I lie here on my deathbed, what I want to believe is true.  I want to believe what I've been told about Jesus.

I want to believe in Jesus because even at the announcement of his birth, there was talk of the poor being lifted up. Here's what they tell me the angel said to Mary about Jesus. The angel said, 

You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus.  He will be very great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David.  And he will reign over Israel forever; his Kingdom will never end!”

The hope of my people for centuries, finally made real. I want to believe in Jesus because of what they tell me his mother said in response to the angel:

 Oh, how my soul praises the Lord.
     How my spirit rejoices in God my Savior!
 For he took notice of his lowly servant girl,
    and from now on all generations will call me blessed.

He has brought down princes from their thrones
    and exalted the humble.
 He has filled the hungry with good things
    and sent the rich away with empty hands.

Then there's Anna, a widow, like me, who spent all of her time in the temple, decade after decade, waiting for God to redeem Israel. I want to believe that Jesus was indeed the end of her waiting. I want to believe that the redemption of Israel that she proclaimed when she saw him as an infant has really come to pass. 

I want to believe that the one who is occupying David's throne puts the poor first. I have always regarded the poor with kindness, always looked out for those with less. This has become more difficult since my husband died, since I don't have much myself. But what I do have, my ability to make clothing, I share with others.

They tell me that John caused a stir when he announced that Jesus was the one for whom Israel waited. People tell me that when they asked John, What does this mean, what should we do in response to your message? he answered them, Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none, and whoever has food is to do likewise.

I've spent all my time trying to model my life after what Jesus proclaimed. Here's what they tell me Jesus proclaimed in the synagogue, for example. They tell me Jesus stood up on the Sabbath, opened the scroll, and read these words from the prophet Isaiah:

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is upon me,
    for the Lord has anointed me
    to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to comfort the brokenhearted
    and to proclaim that captives will be released
    and prisoners will be freed.
 He has sent me to tell those who mourn
    that the time of the Lord’s favor has come.

A simple instruction that I took to heart. They call me a disciple because I am committed to imitating Jesus. But can I really believe that he is the King we've been waiting for?

After all, he died a horrible, humiliating death at the hands of the Romans.  I want to believe those who say he was raised from the dead, but I've never seen him. I've heard plenty of stories, to be sure, and I can't help but hope that they're true. A king who would lift up the lowly and feed the hungry—how I want to believe!

The Roman army has taken over Jerusalem and destroyed the temple. What kind of "good news for the poor" and "release of the captives" is that? 

And if Jesus really is the Messiah, why all this conflict between Jewish who follow Jesus and other Jews who denounce him as a blasphemer? How can a king in David's line bring such division among the Jewish people?

And yet, I can't get this out of my mind. When the Spirit leads Jesus into the wilderness to be temped by Satan, as the story goes, Satan addresses Jesus as Son of God and challenges him to exercise his power. Jesus refuses to remove himself from the discipline and obedience required of all Israel in the wilderness. I know the story well. My ancestors spent years there, sometimes faithful, but often unfaithful to God, following the Torah one day, chasing after other gods the next. So if Jesus is just a rebellious Jew, as some are claiming, what are we to make of the faithfulness of this Son of God in the wilderness? 

The Spirit who leads Jesus into the wilderness is the same one who, it is said, descended upon Jesus at his baptism. They say it was as if you could hear the voice of God on that day, saying This is my beloved son, with Him I am pleased.

And then what does he do? He dwells with the poor. He teaches in synagogues. He heals.

And then there's the most mysterious story of all. Jesus is on his way to the village of Nain with his disciples, a large crowd at his heels (there was always a large crowd, it seems). As they approached the city they saw people in the distance--it looked like a procession of some sort. As they drew nearer, they recognized it as a funeral for the only son of a widow. All of her friends surrounded her, but--and they make a point of this--Jesus picked her out of the crowd. He looked upon the widow, and his heart overflowed with compassion. 

Jesus looked upon the widow, and His heart overflowed with compassion. “Don’t cry!” he said. Then he walked over to the coffin and touched it, and the bearers stopped. “Young man,” he said, “I tell you, get up.” Then the dead boy sat up and began to talk! And Jesus gave him back to his mother. 

A young man, dead and in a coffin, restored to warmth and given back to his widowed mother. I want to believe that this is true. I want to say with his mother, and with Jesus' mother,

    How my spirit rejoices in God my Savior!
 For he took notice of his lowly servant girl,
    and from now on all generations will call me blessed.

I want to say with Anna that the long awaited redemption of Israel has finally arrived.

I want to say with the sick woman who touched his cloak, that I, a garment maker myself, was the one who touched his garment. I want to hear him speak the words, Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace.

I want to take John's words seriously: Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none.

I want to say with the prophet Isaiah, and with Jesus himself in the synagogue among all my fellow Jews, divided as they now are over this Jesus, as my death draws near,

I am overwhelmed with joy in the Lord my God!
    For he has dressed me with the clothing of salvation
    and draped me in a robe of righteousness.

I won't see any of this, so my faith in these accounts will have to be all. My decision to take Jesus at his word will have to be all. In the final account, let it be said of me that I imitated Jesus.

Lord Jesus Christ, you did not come into the world to be served and thus not to be admired either….  You yourself were the way and the life – and you have asked only for imitators.  If we have dozed off into this infatuation, wake us up, rescue us from this error of wanting to admire or adoringly admire you instead of wanting to follow you and be like you.

-       Soren Kierkegaard

* The genesis of this reflection comes from Robert C. Tannehill, "'Cornelius' and 'Tabitha' Encounter Luke's Jesus," Interpretation 48, no. 4 (1994): 347-56.

Posted on April 20, 2016 .