Saturday, April 24, 2010

Wilt Thou Be Made Whole

Acts 9:36-43 In Joppa there was a disciple named Tabitha (which, when translated, is Dorcas), who was always doing good and helping the poor. 37 About that time she became sick and died, and her body was washed and placed in an upstairs room. 38 Lydda was near Joppa; so when the disciples heard that Peter was in Lydda, they sent two men to him and urged him, "Please come at once!" 39 Peter went with them, and when he arrived he was taken upstairs to the room. All the widows stood around him, crying and showing him the robes and other clothing that Dorcas had made while she was still with them. 40 Peter sent them all out of the room; then he got down on his knees and prayed. Turning toward the dead woman, he said, "Tabitha,get up." She opened her eyes, and seeing Peter she sat up. 41 He took her by the hand and helped her to her feet. Then he called the believers and the widows and presented her to them alive. 42 This became known all over Joppa, and many people believed in the Lord. 43 Peter stayed in Joppa for some time with a tanner named Simon.

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The Epistle reading for the Sunday of the Paralytic concerns the woman Dorcas as she is called in Greek, or Tabitha as she is known in the Syro-Chaldaic languages.  As the story is told Dorcas takes ill suddenly and dies, and the body is prepared for burial and laid out in an upper room in a house in Joppa.  The community in Joppa is so stunned and shaken by the loss of Dorcas that they call for Peter, whom they know is nearby in Lydda.  They send two disciples out to bring him to Joppa by the sea.  There is no indication that they think that Peter can restore her to life, so Peter is called upon to come as an elder and authority among the Christian communities to help to fill a significant lacuna left by the woman, Dorcas.  They call him to come and help to show them the way forward without her.

The name Dorcas is a name meaning "gazelle."  Because of the gentle and lovely appearance and temperament of the female gazelle, the name Dorcas was common among female children, and the Dorcas of the story in Acts apparently lived up to that name in many exceptional ways.  She apparently was a most compassionate of women.  She made disciples by her acts of kindness and generosity, by her ability to move about in the community with the common people experiencing their lives as her own and filling in what was lacking as she was able.  She was a woman devoted to those in need and she was recognized as a significant leader in the budding Christian commune of Joppa.  Her passing would leave confusion and disintegration in its wake, for clearly the people called upon Peter to come to them, for they did not know how to go on without Dorcas.

Compassion is a virture strongly identified with the Incarnate Christ for it is more than simply being kind to someone or showing a great deal of sympathy or even empathy.  Compassion means to put yourself in the place of the suffering of another, and at all costs to self, to do something to alleviate that suffering.  It means to walk with those whose welfare you have in mind and at heart.  Compassion places us and keeps us on the road to Emmaus, and draws all who will follow along with us, and insures that they will be fed and clothed and given a chance to live their own lives in the imitation of Christ.

And so Peter goes to Joppa and to Dorcas, and as he kneels and prays by her bier, he does so in the hopes that the Christian community at Joppa may find guidance, and with all confidence that the already Risen Christ will restore Dorcas and her newly forming Christian community.  Luke lingers a while on this story in Acts, realizing the implications of the fact that Peter, for the first time since Pentecost, has invoked the power of the resurrection to bestow new life not only on Dorcas but also on the little body of Christians newly in her care.

Finally, this story about spirit filled life in the early Body of Christ is strategically told in juxtaposition to the story of the Paralytic who looks at Christ and cries "I have no man!"   Compare the reaction to the sickness and death of the gentle  and generous Dorcas, and the reaction of Christ to the cramped and twisted being that sits at the edge of the pool bereft of all companionship, of all compassion. 

To the Paralytic Jesus says "Wilt thou be made whole?"  But through Peter, Dorcas is reanimated without question!
Dorcas is raised up to a renewed life, in and by the grace of Christ, through the power of the Holy Spirit.  

The Paralytic is forgiven and healed in body, but he is sent away with Christ's warning to him, "Sin no more, lest a worse thing come unto thee."  

We leave Dorcas knowing that she will return to her little flock and will take them with her along the pathway to Jesus Christ.  We leave the paralytic not knowing whether he will heed the words of Jesus or not.  The fact that we are all here by the grace of Jesus Christ is never a guarantee that we will use that grace to do his will, but rather turn it to our own will and to satisfy our own purpose and our own inability to show forth in holy compassion.

Wilt Thou Be Made Whole?

Copyright, 2010


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