17 May 2017

Acts 9:36-43

“This became known throughout Joppa, and many believed in the Lord.” (v. 42)

Psalm: Psalm 6:1-9


After the dramatic account of Saul's conversion on the road to Damascus, and perhaps the equally astonishing account of his welcome by Ananias and the Christian community there, the focus of the Acts of the Apostles returns to Peter for the next couple of chapters.

Peter was at this point travelling among the believers in Lydda, near to the Judean coast. After receiving with the other apostles the gift of the Spirit at Pentecost, he has been continuing to minister not just in Jesus' name but using his words and following his example, as when in Lydda he heals a man named Aeneas who has been paralysed and bedridden for eight years, with the words "Jesus Christ heals you; get up and make your bed!" (Acts 9:32-35).

News of this reached nearby Joppa, where a prominent and much-loved member of the Christian community there, a woman named Tabitha had recently been taken ill and died. The disciples there sent for Peter to come over without delay, and when he arrived they took him to the room upstairs where she had been laid out (verses 38-39).

Peter sent everyone out of the room, knelt down to pray, and then said to her "Tabitha, get up", whereupon she opened her eyes, and seeing Peter, sat up (verse 40). Peter took her by the hand, and called the household to show that Tabitha was indeed alive. The word spread around the community, so that "many believed in the Lord".

This simple telling of an extraordinary story has parallels with another story found in the Gospels, particularly Jesus' healing of Jairus' daughter (Luke 8:40-56). There are numerous similarities in the account of what happened, from the way messengers are sent to ask for help, to the crowds weeping when Jesus and Peter arrive and whom they promptly put outside, to the words used to bring them back to life, "Child/Tabitha, get up".

It seems that this story is told in such a way as to reinforce the sense that Peter was not just proclaiming the good news about Jesus, but acting with the power and authority of Jesus, and with the same result that those who heard the news come to believe. It's noteworthy that women have such a prominent role in these early Christian communities, since Tabitha was known to be "devoted to good works and acts of charity" (v. 36). Finally, it's interesting that Peter goes on to stay at the house of Simon, a tanner (verse 43) - but the significance of this we will pick up when we turn next to Peter's encounter with Cornelius, a Roman centurion.

To Ponder

  • How much attention for you pay to themes of healing and wholeness in Church today?
  • How is that best expressed? Through prayers and healing services, or in support of those who exercise their vocation as doctors, nurses or social workers? Or perhaps you have other suggestions?

Bible notes author

The Revd Dr Stephen Wigley

Stephen Wigley is a Methodist minister currently serving as chair of the Wales Synod. He is married to Jenny, a priest in the Church in Wales, and they have two teenage sons, David and Andrew.