Fourth Sunday of Easter

A beloved community that became her family

Seedling growing between iron bars
Photo by Faris Mohammed on Unsplash; licensed under CC0.

May 8, 2022

First Reading
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Commentary on Acts 9:36-43

After introducing Saul to the readers, Luke quickly shifts his attention back to the ministry of Peter. This time, Peter goes to Joppa to raise Tabitha from the dead. But who is really the center of this story?

The story of Peter raising Tabitha from the dead parallels the story of Jairus’ daughter in Luke 8:40-56. While Jairus’ people advocated for his daughter in Luke 8, believers at Joppa advocate for Tabitha in this chapter. In both stories, the miracle occurs in a private setting. Just as Jesus sends everyone except Peter, James, and John out of the room prior to the miracle, Peter sends everyone out in this story. In both accounts, the deceased comes back to life after being ordered to get up. It is as if Peter, who was present when Jesus raised Jairus’ daughter from the dead, replicates a similar miracle at Joppa. 

There is, however, a contrast between the apparent lack of faith in Luke 8 and the faith of the believers in this story. In Luke 8, people went to Jairus after the girl’s death and told him not to bother Jesus anymore. In this story, people send for Peter after Tabitha has already died and urge him to come immediately. People laugh when Jesus suggests that the young woman was simply sleeping, but in this story, people believe that Peter could raise Tabitha from the dead. 

The story of Tabitha comes immediately after the healing of Aeneas and shares a few similarities with it. Both Tabitha and Aeneas were at the margins of the society—Tabitha because of her gender and Aeneas because he apparently lacked any networks. Both stories feature miracles performed by Peter and describe the victory of God and God’s people over forces of death.1 Both miracles lead many to become believers. 

However, as Beverly Gaventa helpfully observes, Luke often juxtaposes a story about a male character with that of a female character (Luke 1:11-20//26-28; 2:25-35//36-38; 24:1-11//12) but places much more emphasis on Tabitha vis-à-vis Aeneas in this chapter.2 Luke offers many more details about Tabitha—her status as a believer, her name in Aramaic and Greek, her commitment to good deeds, and the community’s response to her death. The imperfect verb epoiei in 9:36 suggests that Tabitha was constantly involved in ministering to others. A literal translation of 9:36b reads like this, “she was full of good deeds and alms which she continually did.” The mention of alms possibly implies that she was a person of means. Luke’s suggestion that the widows showed Peter the robes and other garments Tabitha made for them also highlights her ability to care for them financially and her commitment to serving them.

In a culture where the wealthy often had a proclivity to hoard resources, Tabitha was guided by an ethic of care and compassion for others. She was especially committed to serving widows, who were at the margins of the society. Her compassion and care allowed her to build a beloved community that became her family. Whereas Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1-11) lost their place in the community because of their insincere commitment to sharing wealth with the needy, Tabitha gained a beloved community by continually sharing her resources with others. Whereas Ananias and Sapphira’s deception resulted in their untimely death, Tabitha’s dedication to the community brought her back to life. The story in Acts 5 resulted in fear seizing the community, but the story of Tabitha led many to believe in the Lord.  

Tabitha became a prominent disciple not because of any familial connections, or even because of her apparent wealth, but because of the networks she built with widows, the most marginalized in the community. Her ministry reminds readers of the early Church’s commitment to ensure that no widow was overlooked in their everyday needs (Acts 6:1-6).3 In that account, the Church formally chose seven men, including Stephen, to oversee the Church’s ministry of caring for widows in Jerusalem. The Greek verb diakonein (6:2) suggests the seven men were appointed as deacons. Luke does not say if a similar arrangement was made at the church in Joppa, another major city, but Tabitha’s consistent care for widows suggests that she was engaged in a similar ministry. Her story is significant because of her gender and because she was never formally appointed as a deacon or into any leadership position but served them as an equal. 

Luke says nothing much about the effectiveness of the seven men appointed as deacons by the Church. Were they good at their job? Were they full of good deeds and alms which they continually did? Were they beloved by the widows? Did their work impact the lives of others? We hear a little about Stephen, but what about others? Luke does not provide many details about them, but explicitly notes in this instance that Tabitha was dedicated to serving widows and was well loved by them. Her story stands out because of the impact of her ministry, but also because she did not let her lack of formal leadership undermine her ability to serve the most vulnerable.

This is also the story of the women, widows in particular, whose community life was built together on a shared experience of loss of the beloved. It is important to note that it was the widows, the ones impacted by Tabitha’s work, who wept for her when Peter showed up and highlighted her contributions. Where were the male leaders in the church? Did they acknowledge Tabitha’s contributions to the church or weep for her? And why did Peter present Tabitha especially to widows after raising her from the dead? Apparently, it was the women who acknowledged and validated her ministry. Tabitha’s service to them and their subsequent advocacy for her challenges the necessity of hierarchical offices and suggests an alternative wherein believers operate as a community of equals focused on serving each other.

Tabitha never carried the title of a deacon but nevertheless served as one. Based on what Luke says in this story, and does not say in Acts 6, her work was more impactful than that of most men who were officially designated deacons. Tabitha’s story tells us that our work has value and impact even if those in power do not approve or acknowledge it. And the worth and value of our work is best determined by those whose lives it directly impacts.


  1. Willie James Jennings, Acts (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2017), 100.
  2. Beverly Roberts Gaventa, Acts (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2003), 159.
  3. Gaventa, 160.