In the early days of the church, there was a remarkable woman whose Aramaic name was Tabitha, or the Greek translation “Dorcas.” Tabitha means “gazelle.” Her name befit her. Like a graceful gazelle, her kindness was grace in action. The scripture describes Tabitha has always doing good and helping the poor. (Acts 9:36) She was described as a faithful disciple, a follower of The Way.
Tabitha took seriously God’s command that we should care for the most vulnerable in society. “This is what the LORD Almighty said: ‘Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another. Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the foreigner or the poor.’” James writes, “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” (James 1:27)
Her ministry appears to focus on widows and the poor. In seaports, like Joppa, there was a high proportion of widows. During bad weather, seamen were shipwrecked and drowned. Wives and children of these seamen lost not only their husbands and fathers, but also their income. It is possible that Tabitha herself was a widow. In the ancient world, being a widow was synonymous with being poor. If women held no land and had no financial support, where would they live, what would they eat, who would take care of them when they are ill? Jesus condemns teachers of the law for devouring widows’ houses. (Mark 12:40). Let that sink in. Those who should have been the most empathetic to the needs of the down trodden were the very ones taking advantage of the poor.
We can infer from the passage in Acts that Tabitha was a woman of financial means who could have fulfilled her biblical duties by giving money to the disenfranchised. Deen writes, “She could have given of her coins only, but she chose to give of herself also.” (All the Women of the Bible, p. 218)
Her friends displayed Tabitha’s handiworks to Peter. These were not hand-me-down clothes or discards from the closet. With holy imagination we can envision this seamstress carefully measuring each person, selecting colors and material, and artistically creating fashionable clothes that would bring pleasure to the recipients. She wasn’t just meeting a physical need, she was also lifting up the worth and dignity of each individual. She valued people and sought to enrich the lives of those she met. Her kindness wasn’t motivated by her own ego or to make herself feel good, but by her unselfish desire to serve the needs of others.
Upon her death, the outpouring of grief from her widow friends demonstrated how much they loved her. When kindness is lifted from us there is a vacuum in society and we grieve its loss. If you want to have a lot of people attend your funeral, practice kindness.
True kindness, divine kindness inspires kindness. How does God’s kindness inspire you? Are you the kind of person (no pun intended), whose sacrificial service would be missed when you exit this life?