dorcas who was also called tabitha

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. (Acts 9:36-42)
The Seamstress by Australian painter, Nerida de Jong

Maybe my suspicions distract me at times; it’s undeniable I have ‘issues’ with authority figures; and I confess here and now my weakness for marginal characters and off-hand references. What I’m trying to tell you is my reflection on Acts 9, one of today's set readings, takes a different tack.

The problem is Peter. Well, to be honest, not just Peter but Paul too, in fact the whole of Acts. I’ve never clicked with Acts. It’s so mono, and there’s a whiff of propaganda about it. So many model examples, so much careful reasoning, wondrous miracles and high-profile conversations. And I hate the incident with Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5). It suggests a community that cannot deal with division and dispute except by exclusion and violence (or as The Brick Testament paraphrases, Accept Communism or Die.)

I stop liking Peter once he became ‘perfect’. When he was naïve and enthusiastic, a fisherman caught up in the buzz and friendship surrounding Jesus, he made me smiled. When he heard the cock crow for the second time and wept, I wept too. But that need to clarify that the disciples weren't early morning drunks – since when did Jesus worry about that? Or the blatant struggle for power recorded in Acts around the Jerusalem assembly? It turned me right off.

In the passage chosen for today, Peter raises Dorcas/Tabitha from recent death. The event alludes to Jesus’ raising of Jarius’ daughter. But you get the sense that Peter’s aping of Jesus is done not so much out of compassion but out of a thirst for recognition. (I warned you I was suspicious!) Here’s the thing. Did her friends ask Peter to bring Dorcas/ Tabitha back from the dead? Let’s imagine she was a widow and saint, like those who gathered at her bedside to rejoice in her life and work. Death is a fundamental rupture that is most often unspeakably painful and premature. But not always. What if Dorcas/ Tabitha had felt her life drawing to a close. She had loved and been loved, she had contributed to the life of the community and her contributions had been valued and praised. She was tired from her needlework and her role at the heart of the house church. She was ready, yes, ready, to put aside her scraps of material and cloth, rest her head against the pillow and drift away. She wanted to see again those who had been lost to her: lovers, parents and dear friends. She was glad to be welcomed by God’s kind embrace.

She must have been not a little frustrated to find herself the latest proof of Peter’s spiritual authority.

Perhaps my interpretation is connected to my almost complete paper on the Falklands/ Malvinas conflict. I’ve been trying to figure out how we deal with our past and what makes us question accepted truths. Who helps us grow and change? Who gives us the courage to become truly, madly, deeply ourselves? The temptation is to present ourselves as completed. As if we were always, and will always be, the people we are now. But this is never so. Like Peter, we have been naïve and innocent; we have failed and are ashamed. We would do well to remember this. For we cannot live only now. None of us are one dimensional rigid caricatures. Everyone of us are flawed, sorrowing, rejoicing, hoping people of God.


Anonymous said…
I love this painting! I'm seeing this story differently--what I'm seeing is Peter, in that room of widows who are all showing them every last one of the pieces that Dorcas has made. "Look at this fine, stitching. Did you notice, the fabric?" He's out of place in that room that has obviously become women's turf, but he's listening, and it's the widows, i.e., the powerless, that move Peter to act on their behalf. Maybe you're right. But this time around, I'm seeing Peter as the church at its very best, listening to the marginalized, and acting on their behalf. Cindy Weber
Rachel said…
Hi Cindy!

Thanks for stopping by and your interesting comments.
Cuppa Jo said…
Hi Rachel,
I'm in a Bible study working on Acts, and the priest just breezed right over this passage with the only explanation being that "Luke is trying to show the parallels between Peter's ministry and Jesus' ministry," which is just not enough explanation for me.

I wondered the same as you, whether Tabitha would WANT to be resurrected. And what made Peter decide to resurrect HER. Surely he had seen many good people die, surely there had been others he could have just as easily tapped if he needed to get that resurrection requirement on his resume. Why not Stephen? And if Tabitha was so worthy of resurrection, why does she get such a brief, sterilized mention? So many questions!
Rachel said…
Hi Cuppa Jo - thanks for stopping by.

I think that sometimes we get so used to the Bible stories that we rush right over lots of the interesting and revealing details!

Peter seems to have been responding to a request from 'the disciples'- who could be members of the house-church at Joppa - or some other believers. Tabitha is also called a disciple so maybe it was members of her church.

But like you point out, Peter must have had many requests to bring people back to life. I don't know what it was about Tabitha - or about that church or Peter's situation that led to him acting like this.

I don't think the focus of the passage is on Tabitha (even if our reading of it is!) - it is more about Peter's authority and about the community of the church. So I don't see in the passage a reason being given for Tabitha's resurrection. Yes, she was a good person, but as you point out, so were many others.

You may like to take a look at the following book that talks about everyday resurrections - a concept I find helpful in thinking about the constant movement between life and death:

Gebara, Ivone (2002) Out of the Depths: Women’s Experience of Evil and Salvation Minneapolis: Fortress Press

Best wishes for your continued reading and provoking of this and other texts.