If ever there was a Biblical woman who had little to say about herself it would be Dorcas. She appears on the scene in Acts 9:36-42. She seems to have no family but is apparently financially secure. Luke notes she was “abounding with deeds of kindness and charity” and that she did them continuously. The people of Israel were commanded to take up the widows’ cause and care for them because they were vulnerable (Ex. 21:29; 22:22; Dt. 10:18; 24:19-21; 26:12-13; Lev. 18:7). For Dorcas, this concern was such an integral part of her life she practiced it “continually”. But now she is dead!
When Dorcas dies a frantic call is put out to Peter who “just happens” to be nearby. A hasty trip is made to from Lydda to Joppa (a 10 mile distance) and the scene Peter encounters is both urgent and endearing. Dorcas is prepared for burial (which in all likelihood would be taking place that evening) and on view in an upper room. We see through the eyes of the widows the kind of person Dorcas was as garment after garment is produced. The Greek word used to describe her actions designates her kindness as a quality that was profitable and useful to others and not just a nice personality trait. Dorcas did not just acknowledge that widows had a problem and the Law required their care, she actually did something to help them in their time of need. Her death is a terrible blow to them. Something must be done, but the action suddenly stops as Peter clears the room to pray which reminds us of several other men of God who prayed after someone died (1 Ki. 17:8, 17-24; 2 Ki. 4:8-37; Lk. 8:41-42, 49-56).
While we don’t know what Peter prayed or how Dorcas felt when she awoke, the words are inconsequential. Because the narrative forces us to see the event, rather than hear it, it is no surprise that the final three verses emphasize sight. Dorcas opens her eyes, she sees Peter, and he brings her to the saints who see her alive. Discipleship, then, is something that is seen. A sensitive reading of this narrative then would cause us to ask ourselves if we see the same demonstration of discipleship in our own lives. Are we, as Dorcas was, caring for the vulnerable, being attentive to their needs, and performing acts of kindness that benefit them? If yes, then we are living as disciples should.
Unlike cultural values which fluctuate with the millennia, the value of women is very evident throughout the Bible, and most noticeably in the words and actions of Jesus. Unlike the conventional teachers of His day, Jesus talks with women (Jn. 4:1-30), commends them for their faith (Mt. 15:21-28; Lk. 7: 36-50; 8:43-48) and even has them travel with Him as He teaches (Mt. 27: 55-56; Lk. 8:1-2). Women played a large part in the early church as well (Acts 1:14), evangelizing alongside Paul (Rom. 16:1-2; Phil. 4:2-3), training leaders (Acts 18:24-26; Rom. 16:3-5), and planting churches (Acts 16:11-15; Phile. 1:1-2). The Bible clearly shows us that women have been and always will be willing disciples whether they say it with words, or in the things they do. But discipleship is not exclusive to women. Men can be disciples too!
This kind of discipleship involves listening to God’s prompting. If we hear or react to a need, it most likely means God wants us to be the hands and feet of Jesus in that situation. Mary Ellen is a great example that these events aren’t limited to the 1st century A. D. and Dorcas. We all have the capacity to see a need and address it. Taking a step of faith to address a need has a greater benefit than just filling a need in someone’s life. It is also a tool that God uses to bring others to faith (Mt. 5:13-16; Acts 9:42). Where is God calling you to serve?
Ann H. LeFevre, M. Div.
https://www.annhlefevre.com; Olivetreeann@mail.com; https://www.linkedin.com/in/annhlefevre; https://www.facebook.com/ann.h.lefevre