Horizons — Tabitha’s encounter

Rosalind Banbury's ninth reflection on the 2023-2024 Presbyterian Women/Horizons Bible Study.

Sacred Encounters: The Power and Presence of Jesus Christ in Luke and Acts
Lesson 9: Acts 9:36-43

It is a good thing to get an honorable mention. We may not get the “Best Actor” Oscar or “Best Player” award; in fact, accolades are limited to only a few. In the biblical world where men are the major players, it is lovely that the Gospel of Luke pays special attention to women.

We know little about Tabitha. She is referred to as a disciple of Jesus, the only woman so designated. She was well known for doing good, and it seems as if part of her ministry was to widows. When Tabitha dies, widows wash her body and mourn her. Was Tabitha also a widow? Her burial preparation is not done by her family. In Acts 6, we note that there was a daily distribution of food to widows. Children were supposed to provide for their parents, and one wonders if these widows had no family support.

Who are the most vulnerable in your community? Given the plague of loneliness in our country, who can you invite to be a part of your activities?

In Scripture, we find the people of God are to protect and support widows, orphans and the poor in how they structure their society. The prophet Isaiah pronounces destruction on “those who make iniquitous decrees, who write oppressive statutes, to turn aside the needy from justice and to rob the poor of my people of their right, who make widows their spoil and to plunder orphans!” (Isaiah 10:1-2).

Biblical faith is always focused on the community. Our focus on the individual would be incomprehensible to earlier generations of faith. In God’s eyes, communities are judged by how we treat those on the bottom rung of our towns and how well we change laws and culture to raise people out of poverty.

How can we care for those who are widowed — beyond the memorial service and food brought after a death? How do we care for women going through a divorce, or are divorced, where the death of a relationship has no culturally supported customs?

Here are some tips. If you and your husband were friends with another couple before the other husband’s death, continue being friends. When women become single, married friends tend to “unfriend” them. Understand that grief has its own timetable and grieving can last years. Listen without judgment. I remember one widow who came into my office and said, “I am so mad at John for leaving me with all this mess!” She had every reason to be angry at being left with complicated financial matters and cleaning out the house.

Widows can be powerful. Think of Ruth, who refused to abandon Naomi, her widowed mother-in-law. Ruth’s life was one of steadfast love as she gleaned grain so that she and Naomi could survive. Such tenacious, loyal and practical love has brought people through illness, poverty and dire circumstances.

Widowed grandmothers are increasingly raising their grandchildren. Widows may drive capital campaigns or keep vital ministries alive and healthy. I think of Dolly, who is devoted to working with school guidance counselors to see what their students need.  She chairs the missions committee and often buys clothing for the students.

When I began working for a regional body of the church, we moved to a new city, and one of our priorities was finding a church home. At several churches, nobody welcomed us. Not an usher, nor a fellow pew sitter. But Peggy did. She asked if we would like to sit with her, and she called us the same Sunday and invited us to the Wednesday night meal and program. We went. Peggy’s warm attention meant that we looked no further for a community of faith.

Who are women you have known who fueled compassion, welcomed you and or whose commitment to Christ has deepened your own allegiance to Christ? They may or may not get an honorable mention in the history books, but they are stars.

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