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Sunday, April 22, 2007
Holy work takes shape in ministry with those in our communities and outside our circles. Holy work is shown by words and actions that wipe away tears, restore life, and testify to God’s love. Holy work unfolds when we open our lives to the Spirit and follow God’s leading. Holy work is done by those who see need and respond in Jesus’ example. Acts 9:36–43 The author of Acts, who probably also wrote Luke, identifies Tabitha with a title given to no other person in the New Testament: mathetria, the feminine form of the Greek word for “disciple.” Tabitha is one of many women in Luke-Acts who play significant roles, including leadership: Elizabeth and Mary; the women who minister to Jesus; the women who keep vigil at the cross; now Tabitha; later Lydia and Priscilla. Tabitha’s ministry among the widows of her community is evident in this text. Acts does not tell us whether Tabitha was herself a widow. The emphasis is on her work among them. And it is holy work. Hebrew and Christian scriptures alike declare God’s desire for widows to be treated with kindness and justice. The frequency of these urgings suggests that such mandates were not always heeded. Widows remained vulnerable. What does Tabitha do? She clothes them. In the example of Jesus, her compassion is hands-on. The narrator blends words and memories from Jesus’ ministry into this story. The raising of Tabitha strongly resembles Jesus’ raising of a little girl in Mark 5:35–41. The parallel is striking between the words of Peter (“Tabitha, get up”) and Jesus (“talitha cum,” Aramaic for “little girl, get up”). Also, Peter’s “showing” Tabitha to be alive uses the same word as in Acts 1:3: “[Jesus] presented himself alive.” Peter, too, engages in holy work, following the example of Jesus. Tabitha’s story illustrates the unfolding theme in Acts of pushing boundaries wider and wider. Persecution dispersed the church beyond Jerusalem and its vicinity (Acts 8:1). The baptisms of the Ethiopian official (8:38) and Saul (9:18) nudged the church’s practice of inclusion another step. Tabitha’s town, Joppa, had been the setting for Jonah’s call to minister to the hated Assyrians. In Acts, Peter makes a similar leap of faith in ministry among Gentiles (10:1ff). And Tabitha? Tabitha ministers with women routinely overlooked. In so doing, she weaves a community who grieves her death, celebrates her gifts, and witnesses her restoration to life. As Tabitha clothed and cared for her community, the psalmist in Psalm 23 speaks of God’s shepherding that restores human life. The verbs reveal the nature of God’s work: makes to lie down, leads, comforts, prepares, anoints. Revelation 7:9–17 offers the witness of those whose praise of God grows directly out of God’s saving action. In John 10:22–30, Jesus reveals that his works testify to his identity. As Tabitha’s character is revealed in her ministry with the widows, so Jesus’ actions reveal him. Some traditions observe this day as Good Shepherd Sunday. Psalm 23 has direct thematic connections with that observance. John 10:22–30 is set in an entire chapter that explores Jesus as the Good Shepherd. Consider Tabitha’s story. In what ways might her ministry provide another perspective into this observance and our own ministries of “shepherding”? Holy work gets done when a need is seen and then met. Tabitha and Peter emulate Jesus not only in words, but in actions as well. What might Tabitha teach us about ministry that is at once both ordinary and boundary-breaking? What might others “show” as evidence of your ministry in their midst?


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Kairos-Milwaukie UCC Blog

Reflections on the Revised Common Lectionary by Rev. Rick Skidmore and Rev. Jim Ogden.

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