A friend of mine has decided that she is going to help me become a writer and has been giving me a few assignments to complete. This time my subject is Tabitha. Me having vaguely heard of Tabitha, if at all, decided to do some research so as not to disappoint my mentor.
Consequently, when I did a Google search for Tabitha, the first sentence that came up was: “Tabitha is an American fantasy sitcom and a spin-off of Bewitched that aired on ABC from September 10, 1977 to January 14, 1978.”
Now of course, we do not want to discuss a fictional character from someone’s childhood, but a significant female character of the Bible. So, let’s get started on the story of this little known, but wonderfully generous woman!
Acts 9:32-35 gives us just a little background and context. In these scriptures, we find Peter, who was traveling from place to place, visiting the town of Lydda. During this time, he meets a man named Aeneas who was paralyzed and bedridden for eight years. Peter proclaims to him, “Aeneas, Jesus Christ heals you! Get up, roll up your sleeping mat!” (verse 34). Aeneas is then healed and the whole population of Lydda and Sharon turned to the Lord after seeing him walking around. This is where Tabitha, also known as Dorcas, is introduced (Acts 9:36-42).
There was a believer in Joppa named Tabitha (which in Greek is Dorcas). Acts 9:36 NLT
Research finds that Tabitha was a Christian woman who lived in Joppa and was one of Jesus’ early disciples.
The name Tabitha is a Hebrew baby name, meaning beauty and grace. It is derived from the Aramaic word for gazelle. Dorcas, a Greek name, also means gazelle. During this period, there was a mixed population of Jews and Gentiles in the area. Both groups commonly had a Hebrew and Greek name. Thus, the writer of Acts identifies her by both her names.
Tabitha is said to have been doing “kind things for others and helping the poor” (verse 36). However, Tabitha suddenly becomes ill and dies. As was the custom of that day, her body was washed for burial and then laid in an upstairs room for viewing. Believers heard that Peter was nearby and sent two men to beg him to come as soon as possible.
Can I be honest with you for a minute? When I first read of Jesus’ visit to the home of Martha and Mary, I agreed with Martha. I identify with her! After all, what more important guests could you have in your home than Jesus and His disciples. Breakout the fine china and linens; there are guests to impress!
But wait, to agree with Martha means I must disagree with Jesus! Well, I’m not going there, so, let’s dig deeper into Mary’s story. Perhaps she will teach you and me something about being a Mary in a Martha world.
In Luke 10:38-42, Mary of Bethany enters the story:
As Jesus and the disciples continued on their way to Jerusalem, they came to a certain village where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. Her sister, Mary, sat at the Lord’s feet, listening to what he taught. But Martha was distracted by the big dinner she was preparing. She came to Jesus and said “Lord, doesn’t it seem unfair to you that my sister just sits here while I do all the work? Tell her to come and help me.”
But the Lord said to her. “My dear Martha, you are worried and upset over all these details! There is only one thing worth being concerned about. Mary has discovered it, and it will not be taken away from her.” NLT
In John 11, though a message sent to Jesus by Martha and Mary, we learn that Lazarus, a dear friend of Jesus and brother to the sisters, is sick and dying. This gives us the knowledge that Jesus had an ongoing relationship with Martha and Mary. They were also His dear friends. They knew Him, not just of Him, but directly knew Him!
However, Jesus doesn’t arrive in Bethany until after His friend’s death. As He neared the town, Martha rushed out to meet Him, but Mary stayed home. Why did she stay home? Wouldn’t the proper thing be to meet Him just as Martha had done? Isn’t that what everyone would expect? Mary does go to meet Jesus, but only after she’s told that Jesus wants to see her.
As I was challenged to dig deeper into Phoebe, this woman from the Bible, I couldn’t help but think: “She is only mentioned once in the Bible. What could I possibly gain from Phoebe’s story?” My God, I was so wrong. Though she is only mentioned once in the Bible, this was a woman of phenomenal Godly character, a woman who knew her worth, a woman who had an encounter with Jesus Christ.
Phoebe is revealed in Romans 16:1–2 where Paul writes,
“I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deacon of the church in Cenchreae. I ask you to receive her in the Lord in a way worthy of his people and to give her any help she may need from you, for she has been the benefactor of many people, including me.” NIV
In biblical times, letters of introduction to strangers were common. The mention of Phoebe in this way means that she was probably the bearer of the letter that went to Rome. The name Phoebe means bright and radiant. From Paul’s comments about her, it seems that those words characterized her personality and her Christian life.
This gives so much context as to who Phoebe was, and if God would use her, He can use us too! Paul writes, “I commend to you our sister Phoebe.” This is super profound here. This speaks volumes of the intimate relationship in which she and the apostle Paul had. Paul associates himself with Phoebe like a brother. An authentic partnership, one without hierarchy between them. The gender difference didn’t restrict either Paul or Phoebe from the mandate God had on each of their lives.
We so often will allow the fact that we aren’t this or we aren’t that to stop us, and we miss the opportunity to be used to the ultimate level God has ordained over our life. Here we see Phoebe being Phoebe, not allowing societal norms to hold her back from everything God has called her to be. Phoebe isn’t waiting for permission to fill the needs she sees within the body of Christ. Instead Phoebe just does.
The word commend is expressively loud and a word of praise. With an exclamation of admiration, this is how Paul affirms all that she is and all she has been. He immediately gives her title, so no one is deceived that though she is a woman, she is less than a leader of the Cenchreae church. Her discipleship counts. Any brother or sister who has confessed Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior has discipleship that counts, in Jesus’ name.
Have you ever been in a crowd, or even among a few people, and felt completely invisible? I mean, your standing right in front of them, but there is no acknowledgment of your presence or any polite conversation started to draw you in. There is nothing. And you feel utterly invisible.
I wonder if in that moment you, like me, become completely frustrated, maybe even angry at the other person because of his/her lack of manners. You may chalk up the situation to a waste of time and simply walk off. And yet, feelings of longing to be seen and to connect linger in the hours after the encounter.
Why is that?
I believe it is because we were not created to be alone. We were created for community. We seek that togetherness in everyone we meet and when we don’t find it in some, we feel rejected and isolated.
Starting in Genesis, we see God creating community for the man called Adam.
Then the LORD God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.” Genesis 2:18 ESV
In the end, even Jesus does not leave without making sure that we are able to commune with God. He tells the disciples that a helper is coming after his departure.
But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you. John 14:16 ESV
So, there is always a piece of us seeking community, seeking to be heard, seeking to be seen.
How do you reconcile these feelings when it comes to God? Everyone at some point has felt a lack of God’s presence in their life. Many of us in our struggles cry out: “Don’t you see me God?”
Woman of God, we can’t transpose our disappointments regarding other human beings onto God. Don’t doubt for a moment that the One who created you doesn’t see you in every moment of time. Don’t take any period of silence between you and God as an indication He doesn’t see you. It is simply not true.
How can I be so bold in making such a statement?