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Acts 9:36-42 describes the miracle that took place in the city of Joppa, when Dorcas (or Tabitha), one of Christ’s disciples, was raised to life again.
The Christians in Joppa were understandably distressed when Dorcas, known for her assistance to the widows and other good works, died. As the Apostle Peter was close by in Lydda, the Church members in Joppa asked him to come to them. When he arrived he sent everyone from the room in which the body of Dorcas lay and prayed to God who brought her to life again.
This miracle took place early in the history of the Church, shortly after Paul's conversion on the road to Damascus. It had a great impact on the people of Joppa, and we are told, as a result, “many believed on the Lord" (verse 42).
As well as the impact of this great miracle, the example Dorcas set in her daily life also holds significance for us. In verse 36 we are told she was "full of good works and charitable deeds." Dorcas was known for putting her Christian beliefs into practice. When Peter arrived at Dorcas's house, the widows of the church showed him the garments Dorcas had made for them.
Making clothes in the first century must have been time-consuming. There were no sewing machines, and the garments had to be cut and sewn by hand. The material from which the garment was made may also have had to be woven. Dorcas understood what it meant to be a living sacrifice (Romans 12:1), giving something valuable and precious: her time.
Dorcas also had another talent we can all cultivate: the ability to pay attention to and listen to others, to share their burdens. Widows, especially in that society, required special consideration and help. Dorcas recognized this, and stepped in to help provide for them.
One writer put it this way: "The works of Dorcas were recognized in the feeling which the Christian community experienced when Dorcas was gone. They remembered her self-consuming service, her compassion, her faithfulness, her charity….they had lost one whom they love" (Harold J. Ockenga, Women Who Made Bible History, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, 1962, pp. 224-225).
The Apostle James would later write that good works are evidence of faith and that faith without such evidence is empty and worthless, of no benefit to anyone (James chapter 2). Dorcas's faith was proven by her good works directed at helping others.
The world is a busy and complicated place, but there are still many things we can do for others. It can be as simple as telephoning an elderly person or providing a few food items to the needy or to a local charity. We live in different times and different physical circumstances, but people still need our time, talent and tender care in whatever form we can give it to them. Let's learn from the example of Dorcas.
The Good News magazine (Nov-Dec 1997)