Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable to you O Lord our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.
In the midst of Paul’s conversion story, we flash back to the Disciple Peter; who has just enacted a miraculous resurrection. Commentator Lewis Mudge tells us this story doesn’t really fit and is minimally helpful. He says the heart of the problem in this story is the relationship between miracle and meaning. There doesn’t seem to be a rhyme or reason when compared to other miracle stories…and by the way, where is the lesson?
I was intrigued with his seeming to brush it off, which in my mind is all the more reason to examine it. Looking at it with a much wider pericope in mind, I believe we can glean a good lesson from it.
What do we know of the recent relationships of Peter in the Gospel movement? Peter was present at the raising of Jairus’ daughter, when Jesus speaks in Aramaic, “Talitha cum,” which means, “Little one, get up.” This is very similar language to Peter’s “Tabitha, get up.” He, along with the other disciples, were given the power of healing and sent out even before the crucifixion. Here, apparently, is an example of such power exercised.
What else do we recall? Peter recognizes and names Jesus “The Messiah of God” early on. But later, during the passion, Peter is both adamant that he will follow Jesus everywhere, then refused to have his feet washed, then denies Jesus three times at the Temple beating. Later, on the beach, the risen Jesus asks him three times (mirroring his three denials) “Peter, do you love me more than these?” When Peter says yes from the deepest depths of his frail human finitude, he is commanded to feed and tend Christ’s sheep and lambs.
The “reinstatement of Peter,” as that passage is sometimes called, is actually a turning point for the very fabric and character of Peter’s being. Acts takes the often stumbling and bumbling Peter of the Gospels and records a significant transformation; one might almost say a conversion. Peter becomes known as a healer and a miracle worker. Peter even becomes, as commentator Robert Wall observes, Israel’s principal witness to the Holy Spirit’s “Gentile Pentecost,” which we will hear more about in next week’s text.
Now put Tabitha’s story within the context of the growth in discipleship and ministry of Peter. Peter heals Aeneas in Lydda, then raises Dorcus, or Tabitha in the Aramaic, both very Jesus-emulating events. Incidentally, it is particularly interesting to note that Tabitha is specifically named here as a disciple – with the only singular female form of that Greek word, mathetria, found in the New Testament.
It is also particularly interesting to me to note that the widows who called out to Peter from Tabitha’s congregation showed him the clothes she had made them. Not because they did that to make their case, but because the Greek voicing in fact indicates the widows weren’t just showing him garments, but were wearing the garments Tabitha had made for them.
I wonder if Peter is hearing the echo in his mind of Jesus telling him, “tend my lambs.” Here is a woman disciple who has more than fed and tended the Lord’s flock. Here is a woman who has literally lived the heart of the Gospel out – known for her good works and acts of charity, she has no doubt given food to the hungry, drink to the thirsty, visited the sick, and here, of course, proof of clothing the naked. Not only any naked, but the poorest of the poor, widows of ancient near-east society were utterly dependent on charity for their very livelihood. If that IS the case, then in my mind that would be impetus enough to enact a holy miracle in faith – and Peter would begin to be doing what the Lord has commanded him.
If that isn’t enough, there are two more pieces of background for the narrative that provide additional layering for this story. What you may not remember is that Peter is called a “son of Jonah” in the Gospel of Matthew. Let me remind you that the prophet Jonah, of Old Testament fame, began his journey in his home town of Joppa, where God calls to him and he runs away from God’s command to prophesy to the Ninevites – a Gentile city. When Jonah finally accepts God’s work for him, he travels to Nivevah, and the entire city repents and receives forgiveness and the teachings of God…a salvation, if you will, of Gentiles!
Here is Peter, in Joppa, working miracles when he is set up for the next story: in the midst of Peter’s deeply troubling vision from God of clean and unclean animals and God’s command to get up, kill, and eat, Peter receives a call to go visit another Gentile named Cornelius. He goes, and this precipitates his witnessing of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit on Cornelius and his entire household; another story of Salvation to the Gentiles!
To me these themes and stories wrapped and woven around the small one-paragraph record of the resurrection of Tabitha help all of it make more sense. The question for us is, how might we appropriate a message from all of this for our current time and place?
I would interpret the passage for us in this way: We do not hold the keys to these mysteries of birth, life, death, and resurrection. Only God does. Stephen Jones writes,
“We do not know God’s will as it pertains to Dorcas or to our loved ones. The helpful distinction is between praying for a cure, which seems to dictate to God our desired outcome, and praying for healing, which can come in a hundred unexpected ways. God’s Spirit will intervene on behalf of our prayers, yet the healing that comes often surprises us and causes us to catch our collective breath…”
“The congregation at Joppa was vulnerable. They stood together, using all the tools and spiritual resources available to them—weeping together, hoping together, and celebrating together. They were unafraid to wade into each other’s lives in transforming ways. These can be rare marks in twenty-first-century Christian communities.”
Perhaps, my friends, that is who and what we are called to be; fully present one to another in this community of faith as well as to Trout Lake and our wider communities. Who knows what kinds of miraculous things God might do – even among us. And that gives me great hope and excitement. Amen? Let us pray.
 Mudge, Lewis. Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary – Feasting on the Word – Year C, Volume 2: Lent through Eastertide.
 Wall, Robert W. Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary – Feasting on the Word – Year C, Volume 2: Lent through Eastertide.
 Jones, Stephen. Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary – Feasting on the Word – Year C, Volume 2: Lent through Eastertide.
Questions for Reflection – from Feasting on the Word Worship Aids
Psalm 23 affirms that God supplies our every need. How do our lives change when we trust this great promise of God? How do we explain the lives of those whom we meet where their every need does not seem to be met? When we make such comparisons, how does it impact your action/reaction as you re-consider what is “needful” in your life?
Household Prayer: Morning
Holy God, you have called a people to be your family out of every tribe, language, and nation, to love and serve you daily in a world of beauty, complexity, and diversity. Help us to honor and respect the dignity of difference as we seek to be one with you and each other this day and always.
Household Prayer: Evening
O Shepherd of all, you have brought us to the close of another day; for this gift and the blessings we now name, we give you thanks…
All that we have and all that we are come from you; and so, trusting in the goodness of your divine care, let us lie down this night in peace, that tomorrow we may rise to greet you in resurrection joy. Amen.