One of the Family Home Evening questions in the July 8-14, 2019 Come, Follow Me—For Individuals and Families is: “What do [your family members] learn about true discipleship from … Tabitha and the widows of Joppa?”
One of our first impressions when we began to study Acts 9:36-43 was that Tabitha (also known as Dorcas) is named. When we think of all the congregations of faithful women in all ages, little is known of their personal identities. President M. Russell Ballard has taught, “As we look for and find women in our scriptures… we will see far better the power and influence women have on family, community, the Church and the world. …We need to develop the skill to find their influence” (“Righteous Women Essential to God’s Work, Elder Ballard Says,” Church News, May 4, 2015).
What follows are some of the insights we gained by studying the discipleship of Tabitha and the widows of Joppa.
Relief Society Sisters of the New Testament
The first description of Tabitha notes that she “was full of good works and almsdeeds which she did” (Acts 9:36). She and other women living in Joppa were “doers of the word” (James 1:22). They were physically and spiritually clothing and nurturing themselves and others with the most desired attribute of godliness and discipleship—“charity … the pure love of Christ” (Moroni 7:47). For as both the Prophets Paul and Mormon have unequivocally declared: “charity never faileth” (1 Corinthian 13:8; Moroni 7:46).
Tabitha became ill, and a sisterhood of friends came to care for her needs. After she died, they “washed” her body and “laid her in an upper chamber” (Acts 9:37). When the mourners heard that Peter was in Lydda, which was near Joppa, they asked for help. Two men were sent to Peter “desiring him that he would not delay to come to them” (Acts 9:38). These cooperative efforts show us that both female and male disciples worked cooperatively with one another.
For today’s members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, President Thomas S. Monson has explained: “To me the scriptural reference to Tabitha, which describes her as a woman ‘full of good works and almsdeeds,’ defines some of the fundamental responsibilities of Relief Society; namely, the relief of suffering, the caring for the poor, and all which that implies. Women of Relief Society, you truly are angels of mercy. This is demonstrated on a grand scale through the humanitarian outreach to the cold, the hungry, and to suffering wherever it is found. Your labors are also very much in evidence in our wards and in our stakes and missions. Every bishop in the Church could testify of this truth” (“Be Thou an Example,” Ensign, Nov. 2001, 31).
Christ-like Miracles Continue
Peter was in the home of Jarius and had seen Jesus disperse the weeping multitude, walk into the room where the dead girl lay, and then heard the Lord say, “Maid, arise” (Luke 8:54). Now, Peter was serving in the Master’s place. When Peter initially arrived at Tabitha’s home, “all the widows stood by him weeping, and shewing the coats and garments which [Tabitha] made, while she was with them” (Acts 9:39). They wanted Peter to know of her service in caring for those in need. Then, he sent away the mourners, knelt in prayer, and in Christ-like simplicity said, “Tabitha, arise” (Acts 9:40). Tabitha arose, and with Peter’s assistance “the saints and widows” were called back and “presented her alive” (Acts 9:42).
What this clearly demonstrates is that by faith and through the power of the priesthood miracles will always be a part of Christ’s Church on earth. As the Prophet Mormon clearly taught: “it is by faith that miracles are wrought; and it is by faith that angels appear and minister unto men; wherefore, if these things have ceased wo be unto the children of men, for it is because of unbelief, and all is vain” (Moroni 7:37). Like Tabitha and the ministering Saints of Joppa who watched over her, we Latter-day Saints need to continue to have faith in miracles.
Home-centered Fortresses and Sanctuaries
Another significant aspect about this inspirational story is that Peter came and ministered to Tabitha’s needs in her home. It was truly a home-centered Church supported experience. Which led us to question: how should we now strive to protect and care for our families?
At the April 2019 general conference, Elder Ronald A. Rasband counselled, “Our homes are fortresses against the evils of the world. In our homes we come unto Christ by learning to follow His commandments, by studying the scriptures and praying together, and by helping one another by staying on the covenant path” (“Build a Fortress of Spirituality and Protection,” Ensign, Apr. 2019, 56).
Sister Chieko N. Okazaki, while serving as first counsellor in the Relief Society general presidency, offered a slightly different way of viewing the protection of our homes: “A sanctuary isn’t a fortress that bars people from entering it, and it’s not a mausoleum where everything is hushed and still. It’s a place of holiness, a place of happiness, and a place of love. Your children, your friends, and your neighbors will be able to feel if your home offers a sanctuary” (Sanctuary , 5).
Both are valuable ways of viewing home life. This is further emphasized in “The Family: A Proclamation to the World,” Ensign, Nov. 2010, 129: “By divine design, fathers are to preside over their families in love and righteousness and are responsible to provide the necessities of life and protection for their families. Mothers are primarily responsible for the nurture of their children. In these sacred responsibilities, fathers and mothers are obligated to help one another as equal partners.” The fortress concept emphasizes the importance of protection—the sanctuary image emphasizes nurturing.
We are so grateful that the Church’s Come, Follow Me resources repeatedly invite us to study the scriptures and ponder important questions in our homes. Contemplating the discipleship of Tabitha and the widows of Joppa has helped us learn how important it is to help others, believe in miracles, and strengthen our homes.