Tabitha’s story is life-giving in more ways than one. Honestly, simply reading, “There was a disciple whose name was Tabitha” quickens my heartbeat, so seldom have I been shown the lives and told the stories of women who led the early church.
While there are many who still today condemn or at least distrust women’s leadership on a biblical basis, Acts documents a woman, a disciple, whose works and life meant so much to her community that when she died her friends immediately sent for Peter, who dropped everything to come.
When he arrives in Joppa, he is met by a group of widows, who in their sorrow show Peter Tabitha’s handiwork. Much as I see women do today, these women gather around one another, holding one another in their sorrow and grief, lifting one another up for their faithful works.
Peter joins them, to honor her life and remember her in death. Did he have a plan when he arrived, I wonder? Did he come to bring her back to life? Or was he moved by the women’s displays, seeing this woman’s faith and its effect on them, imagining how much further her good works might spread if her life were not cut short?
Like many women, there have been times in my life when the good works I try to do, the ways I seek to serve, have been thwarted. We die many metaphorical deaths before our physical breath ceases.
Yet I know the church needs us, as it needed Tabitha, whether it knows it or not. When women gather, we give life to each other in such dark moments, mourning losses and honoring the good work our sisters do. I listen, daily, for this call, like Peter’s: “Tabitha, get up,” though I rarely hear it.
When hope for change, for the good we work for, dies, how do we learn to believe that God can bring us back to life? I learn it from the lives of other women. I get up, because they do, day after day.
Paul’s first letter to Timothy is both an encouragement and a challenge, girded by theological concerns. The passage begins with this charge: “But as for you, man of God, shun all this; pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, gentleness.”
The verses before condemn those who want to be rich. Paul says their desires will plunge them into ruin: “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil,” and their love has led them away from the faith.
Paul reminds Timothy that they brought nothing into the world and will take nothing out of it. Godliness is not a means of gain.
In contrast to those who have fallen into the trap of material wealth, Timothy has made “the good confession” in the presence of many witnesses, and Paul reminds him of this, charging him to make good on that confession, to continue to shape his life around the giver of abundant life. Part of that means speaking truth to those who’ve turned away, those who have grown haughty or placed their hope on an unstable marketplace.
Paul entrusts Timothy with this task: Tell them to do good, to be rich in good works, generous, sharing what they have. It’s not enough for Timothy to shun riches himself. He is called to bring these others back to faith.
Nor is it enough for the rich to merely acknowledge the futility of their wealth. They in turn are called to generosity, to sharing. This life of sharing to which they are called is “the life that is really life.”
Meghan Florian, of Durham, N.C., teaches writing at William Peace University. She is a member of Chapel Hill Mennonite Fellowship.