Dorcas, an Extraordinary Seamstress
It was an ordinary day in Joppa as a well-known Christian woman was going about her regular work of helping the poor. Sewing clothes for widows and orphans took time and patience, but she had been doing it for a long time, and that day was no exception. Then she died.
Now, if I were writing a story about a Christian lady who had such a testimony in her town, that is not the ending I would have chosen for an average day in her life. It’s shocking – and I’m sure her fellow believers in that little church were just as shocked. But this true story has a twist that makes it extra special. Here are some details.
Who was Dorcas?
What we know about her comes from a handful of verses in Acts chapter 9. We know Dorcas was her Greek name, but she was also known as Tabitha, the Aramaic version of the same name.
She is called a mathetria or disciple. Note that this is the only time in the New Testament this feminine form of the word is used. She must have been an extra special Christian lady!
She lived in Joppa, a sea-port town notable as the place where Jonah caught a ship to run from God. It was an active city on the Mediterranean Sea, so it likely had many visitors from all over. Some time before, the disciple Philip had established a church at Joppa (modern day Jaffa) which was noted for evangelism and outreach to the needy. This is likely the setting of Dorcas’ story.
While most of her fellow believers were poor, Dorcas apparently had a good income, since she was able to give and serve as much as she did. The passage tells us she made clothes for widows and also gave money to help meet the needs in her town.
Why was her work so important?
The text notes that much of the clothing she stitched went to the widows in her church. At that time, a woman with no man (husband, father or other relative) to provide for her had to herself find a way to live and eat. Often this meant she didn’t have money left over to buy clothing. The oldest widows might not even be physically able to sew. The younger widows often had to provide for children, another group for whom Dorcas supplied clothes.
Then she Died...
According to the custom of the time, a dead body was bathed and groomed, then placed in a room to await formal burial procedures. The text seems to indicate Dorcas had no relatives to perform this task for her, but the widows she had served lovingly prepared her body. It’s obvious that Dorcas’ death left this little church in deep mourning.
The Rest of the Story...
When Dorcas died, the believers who knew her heard that Peter was in nearby Lydda, where he had performed a great miracle. While the Bible doesn’t outright say they were hoping Peter would resurrect Dorcas, it does note that they sent two believers to ask him to come to Joppa. It seems obvious that this was their hope. (Acts 9:38).
Peter made the 17-mile journey to Joppa without hesitation. When he arrived, the widows Dorcas had helped showed Peter some of the garments she had made for them, so he could see the beautiful work she had done on their behalf. When Peter saw what Dorcas had done for the Lord, and the obvious gap left by her passing, he made a decision.
He sent everyone out of the room so he could talk to the Lord alone, and determine God’s will in the matter. After some time in prayer, Peter turned to the body of Dorcas and said, “Tabitha, arise.” Imagine how thrilled he was to see her eyes open and watch her sit up! I’m sure it was his great pleasure to present her --alive-- to her fellow believers.
But beyond the joy her resurrection brought to her church family, we learn the entire city was abuzz with the story, and God’s work there grew mightily. Because of this miracle, Peter stayed in Joppa for some time, taking advantage of the opportunity to tell others about Jesus.
My Thoughts About her Story
While I admire Dorcas for her faithful service and am in awe of the miracle God granted her, there are several lessons I can see in her story.
1) God has given each of us unique gifts and talents to use for his glory. We are all part of God’s plan. We can all do something to serve the kingdom. While there are many things you can’t do, choose to do what you can. For Dorcas, it was using a needle, so she stitched for Christ’s sake. For others it’s singing or teaching or cleaning a bathroom. If God gave you the ability, he wanted you to use it for him.
2) Dorcas’ story illustrates the value of women in God’s eyes. Though we have different roles in the Church, we have the same value to Him.
3) There is tremendous power in prayer. Prayer is powerful because our God is powerful. We don’t value it near enough in today’s busy world. But God is not a genie who gives us everything our hearts desire. Like Peter, we need to seek God’s will through our prayers.
4) Her story is a reminder that Christ can do what no one else can. Bringing Dorcas back from the dead wasn’t done for Dorcas’ sake (after all, she was in heaven). To some extent it may have been for the sake of the widows and poor people of Joppa, who needed her, but mainly the resurrection of Dorcas was to show the power of Jesus. Scripture tells us, “many believed.”
5) This is a story of faith demonstrated in action. Dorcas had faith that her work would make a difference in her church family. The other believers in her church had faith that Peter could help, and Peter had faith that Jesus could free Dorcas from death.
6) You don’t have to be a church leader or “up front” person to make a difference. Dorcas wasn’t a leader, the things she did weren’t weighty in the eyes of others, but she did try to do all she could to serve the Lord in her sphere of influence. Because of Dorcas’ amazing story and faithful service, women throughout history have served others the same way. In fact, many church have a Dorcas Society which makes beautiful sewn items for others.