“Now in Joppa there was a disciple named Tabitha (which translated means Dorcas). She was completely occupied with good deeds and almsgiving.” (Acts 9:36)
Tabitha was a virtuous and kindly woman who belonged to the Christian community in Joppa. She was known for her good deeds and almsgiving. Having become grievously ill, she suddenly died. At that time, the Apostle Peter was preaching at Lydda, not far from Joppa. Messengers were sent to him with an urgent request for help. When the Apostle arrived at Joppa, Tabitha was already dead. On bended knee, St. Peter made a fervent prayer to the Lord. Then he went to the bed and called out, “Tabitha, get up!” She arose, completely healed.
Tabitha and Cornelius exemplified the ideal convert (Tabitha being Jewish and Cornelius a God-fearer) as part of the Lucan presentation that persons of means and status were becoming Christians. This Lucan focus is certainly understandable if Theophilus was also a person of means and status.
Joppa was a Greek city and the border coastal region adjacent to Judea controlled by the Romans during this period. The narrative is therefore part of the step progression method utilized by Luke.
Three hundred years later, Cyprian rewrote the story of Tabitha in support of redemptive almsgiving.
“In the Acts of the Apostles the faith of the fact is established; and that souls are delivered by almsgiving not only from the second, but from the first death, is discovered by the evidence of a matter accomplished and completed. When Tabitha, being greatly given to good works and to bestowing alms, fell sick and died, Peter was summoned to her lifeless body; and when he, with apostolic humanity, had come in haste, there stood around him widows weeping and entreating, showing the cloaks, and coats, and all the garments which they had previously received, and praying for the deceased not by their words, but by her own deeds. Peter felt that what was asked in such a way might be obtained, and that Christ’s aid would not be wanting to the petitioners, since He Himself was clothed in the clothing of the widows. When, therefore, falling on his knees, he had prayed, and—fit advocate for the widows and poor—had brought to the Lord the prayers entrusted to him, turning to the body, which was now lying washed on the bier, he said, “Tabitha, in the name of Jesus Christ, arise!” Nor did He fail to bring aid to Peter, who had said in the Gospel, that whatever should be asked in His name should be given. Therefore death is suspended, and the spirit is restored, and, to the marvel and astonishment of all, the revived body is quickened into this worldly light once more; so effectual were the merits of mercy, so much did righteous works avail! She who had conferred upon suffering widows the help needful to live, deserved to be recalled to life by the widows’ petition.” On Works and Almsgiving, 6.
A work in progress.