The biblical town of Joppa was a seaport area. It was the only seaport where people rested en route to Egypt and Mount Carmel before the 19th century. It was technically the seaport for Jerusalem, the main port of the coast whose name today is Jaffa. The city bustling with life, music, pop, and dynamism, was a relatively wealthy community. Tel Aviv was founded on its outskirt.
Like many seaport towns, Joppa housed the very wealthy. It was also a home for the lower class on the economic ladder, who took care of the needs of travelers, helping them with small jobs. There were also exposures to prostitution rings, as well as exploitations of the vulnerable.
In that city was a wealthy woman who saw it as a bounden duty to improve the living standards of the poor women and widows. In ancient Israel, widows were counted with orphans and foreigners as the anawims—the poorest of the poor. They were among the most vulnerable of all. Widows lose virtually every inheritance and protection at the death of their husbands, making them easy preys of manipulative users and abusers. At Joppa, there would be no limits to the harm to which widows could be exposed.
Wherever there is a need, God provides by sending His angels and His saints. Need drives divine swift intervention. Needs propel the best human creativity. Needs should be met. It is how God has made things, set them in statu via (in process), so we can be part of bringing about His providence in our world. We are God’s hands and feet for providence.
God meets needs through people like you and me; people who pay attention to what is going on around them. People of a generous heart meet needs.
The wealthy woman in Joppa was one pretty woman, God’s angel, to supply for the needs of women. Her Hebrew name Tabitha, translated in Greek as Dorcas, means gazelle or a deer. Deer and gazelles are beautiful creatures, aren’t they?
Names have significant meanings in Hebrew culture. So it is with African cultures. People in these two cultures, for example, do not give names arbitrarily given. Every name has a meaning tied to the time, the culture, the lineage, or the events surrounding the life of the child.
Concerning the deer, recall the biblical imagery of the deer thirsting for running streams as the soul thirsts for God (see Psalm 42:1). The deer is need-driven, so is the soul, our hearts for God.
The deer is considered lovely, gentle, and bright-eyed, so was Dorcas. She was a believer in the Lord Jesus, and her faith was exemplary in her work of generosity to the poor of Joppa, especially widows.
Dorcas was God’s answer to the needs of widows at Joppa, and she did it so well. I hope we are God’s answers to someone else’s needs. It’s a beautiful thing to do.
Dorcas’ generosity wasn’t like many of us do. We merely donate to charity, a beautiful gesture. But we hardly want to get our hands and feet dirty with the actual service of giving out the gifts, visiting with the poor in the slums, being part of the delivery team. Many of us don’t want to get involved with the sticky, dirty, and messy stuff. Money is easy to give.
Dorcas gave the money and, above all, made the tunics herself. What a labor of love! She gave out the clothes to the widows herself and visited with them too. See how the Bible describes her: “She was completely occupied with good deeds and almsgiving” (Acts 9:36).
When she died, the widows’ cries reached God. The widows invited Peter to pray for Dorcas; they were expecting a miracle. Their reason why Dorcas must not die, at least not yet, was the cloaks and tunics she made for them. It was her generosity. In effect, they beckoned the Apostle Peter to ask God to restore their hope. God did. There occurred the miracle of raising the dead.
Saint Peter by speaking real life to the woman who has given hope to many, she received her life back. We hear from the Lord himself that “the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life” (Jn 6:63).
Here is a thought. As we meet human needs, God meets our needs too. We receive life in abundance. It is not merely earthly life, but the healing grace, life that endures. Be generous to those in need. Your generosity would win for you divine benevolence too. Get busy with a labor of love. Remember, the measure we give, the same we shall receive in return. Even more, as Scripture says, “Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap” (Lk 6:38).
If I may ask when was the last time you were generous with your time, talent, or treasure?
Fr. Maurice Emelu