The Seamstress of Joppa : Dorcas / Tabitha
In Joppa there was a follower named Tabitha. . . . She was always doing good things for people and had given much to the poor. . . . The men took Peter upstairs into the room. Many widows were there crying. They showed him the coats and clothes that Dorcas had made while she was still alive. After Peter had sent everyone out of the room, he knelt down and prayed. Then he turned to the body of Dorcas and said, “Tabitha, get up!” The woman opened her eyes, and when she saw Peter, she sat up. He took her by the hand and helped her to her feet.
Acts 9:36a, 36c, 39b-40-41a, CEV
Other than the unique Resurrection of our Lord, the New Testament mentions hardly half a dozen people who were raised from the dead. How fitting that one of those fortunate few should have been a simple seamstress in the seaport city of Joppa!
Some years ago my wife enlisted several Indonesian Christian women to begin a sewing outreach group in a busy city where there were many poor people. Not Joppa but Java was the name of the island where the city was located. When these women considered a name for their ministry, it seemed natural that they should turn to the familiar story found in Acts 9:36-40.
The name we most often use for the seamstress of Joppa is Dorcas. My wife and her friends chose instead to use the alternative name. For a quarter of a century Grup Tabita ministered to thousands of women and girls from Islamic backgrounds – women and girls who likely would never have darkened the door of a church. “We must be the church for them,” those dedicated leaders agreed. And a significant number of Indonesian women and girls came to Christ through Grup Tabita.
Tabita or Tabitha means gazelle or deer in Aramaic; Dorcas means gazelle or deer in Greek. Was there some reason why the seamstress of Joppa was known by such names? Did she have beautiful eyes like a doe? Was she shy like a faun?
Actually the Bible tells us very little about Dorcas/Tabitha. We know
she was a Christian believer. We know she lived at a busy seaport on the Mediterranean coast of Palestine. We know that many poor widows also lived at Joppa, some of them no doubt being the survivors of unlucky sailors.
We know Dorcas was skilled with her needle. We know she must have had enough means to be able to make charitable contributions; perhaps she sewed some clothes to sell and some to give away. (My wife and her friends did not give away clothes. Instead they taught Indonesian women and girls how to sew clothes, both for their own use and to sell for the support of their families.)
When Dorcas sickened and died, her fellow believers in Joppa took speedy action. Two of them hurried off to a nearby town where they had heard that one of the apostles was ministering. And in the power of God’s Spirit, Peter came back with them to Joppa and restored Dorcas to life.
The following Bible-based poetic meditation assumes that Dorcas, once she had become a Christian believer, may have had a bit of trouble figuring out how she should best serve her Lord. Most Palestinian women of that day were uneducated, even illiterate. Cultural norms kept most of them from assuming any prominent role in society.
Be sure to thank God for showing Dorcas what she should do. Then thank God again for restoring the seamstress of Joppa to her grieving fellow believers.
My home is in Joppa, a seaport of fame.
A prophet once sailed from here, Jonah by name.
Now, many that go to sea never return, . . .
and what then is left for their widows to earn?
The widows of Joppa are wasted by want;
their bodies are bony, their faces are gaunt.
Their children – half-orphans, or orphans indeed –
are wretched and ragged, in hunger and need.
The Good News of Jesus reached Joppa one day.
I knew in my heart then that this was the Way.
But . . . how should I serve Him, my Savior and Lord?
I looked for some leading, some sign from the Word.
No study or learning equipped me to teach.
No eloquence made me endeavor to preach.
No miracle under my fingers took form,
except . . . by my needle the needy stayed warm.
O Giver of every good and perfect gift, help all the members of the family of faith to discover what You have prepared for them, and then to do what You have equipped them for. Amen.
Copyright © 2015 by Perry Thomas