“Women hold up half the sky.”
I was first introduced to this Chinese proverb through Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDuun’s inspiring book, Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide. Gender inequality hurts whole societies, not just women, by allowing half a population’s human resources to go untapped. Throughout the book, Kristof and WuDuun share stories and evidence that educating girls, investing in maternal health care and empowering female entrepreneurs are successful poverty-fighting strategies.
It could also be said that women hold up half the church. Every church community I have called home has had a woman, or a group of women, whose work was so vital that without them, the congregation would dissolve into complete disarray. This Sunday’s lectionary passage from Acts describes one such woman.
Tabitha was a disciple devoted to good works. The Greek word for “disciple” that Luke uses here is the first and only use of the word in the feminine form. (Remember this the next time you hear someone say it isn’t “biblical” for women to be leaders in the church.) Luke calls her by her Aramaic name, Tabitha, which was how she was likely known to her faith community. But he also shares her Greek name, Dorcas, which suggests that her work and charity was known among the greater public.
When Tabitha dies, it is the community’s widows who are most distressed, gathering around Peter to show him their clothes, made by this female disciple. Without the support of their faith community, these widows would perish. Tabitha’s ministry to these vulnerable women was essential to their survival in a world that devalued and marginalized women, especially those without husbands.
The resurrection of Tabitha is a miracle story that Luke likely tells to solidify Peter’s increasing power and send the message that the God who raised Jesus from the dead is still at work in the world. But the desperation of this community upon the loss of Tabitha speaks to another important theme in the book of Acts — that of valuing and using all a community’s resources for its health and wholeness, including those (the women) devalued by the culture and society at large.
On this coming Mother’s Day Sunday, faith communities will pause to recognize the women and caregivers essential to families. Children will run around sanctuaries handing out flowers and families will celebrate with special lunches. Moms may even be gifted with the luxury of luxuries — time for an afternoon nap!
But, in light of Tabitha’s story, faith communities might also pause to consider all its God-given resources. Whose work, if lost, would we be desperate to resurrect? Who could contribute to the work of the community in ways we haven’t considered? Who does society devalue that could find a home among us?
Questions for reflection:
- What resurrection stories can you tell? Where have you witnessed people or communities being brought from death to life?
- Who serves as Tabitha in your faith community? Whose work keeps your congregation alive and well?
- What counter-cultural story does your faith community tell? Who is devalued by society that is valued in your faith community?
To print, use this .pdf version: LITL_May8
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