Acts 9:32-43 (AD 34)
At roughly the time of Paul’s conversion, Peter was travelling around Israel preaching the message of Jesus, and encouraging the Christians.
His status as an apostle – a specially commissioned disciple of Jesus with supernatural authority – was evident from verse 38. Some Christians (at that time they were all referred to as disciples) sent for him after the death of a treasured sister in Christ. The ability from God to heal people was used by the apostles to validate their ministry and their message as coming directly from God.
Like Jesus, Peter wasn’t wandering around doing miracles willy-nilly to put on a show and have people follow him like miracle-tourists. There was enough danger of that anyway, as was the case during Jesus’ ministry. At times Jesus hid himself from the public, avoided town centres completely after the first part of his ministry, and used some of the more stark elements of his teaching to thin out the crowds.
Miracle-working was done thoughtfully, to testify to the truth of God, and it was prompted by a desire to help people. Here, Peter responded to the cries of people who had lost a lady called Tabitha, who “was always doing good and helping the poor” (v.36). Not the only Christian who lost their life in the region at the time, and possibly not the most well-known, either. But she was dearly loved and clearly a wonderful, humble person through the way that she served the most vulnerable people.
In ancient societies, some of the most vulnerable people were widows. They had lost most or all of the income for the household through the death of their husbands, and throughout Scripture God names the treatment of them, along with orphans, as indicators of the health of a society. The mistreatment of widows was something very close to God’s heart, for example in Isaiah’s prophecy God said,
“Woe to those who…deprive the poor of their rights
and withhold justice from the oppressed of my people,
making widows their prey and robbing the fatherless” (Isaiah 10:1-2)
It was the widows who were foremost in mourning Tabitha’s death, and it was the widows to whom Peter most pointedly presented Tabitha after God raised her back to life (v.41).
God loves and cares for all people. God also has his eyes most especially on those who have least, who are most vulnerable and most in need of care. And our duty as Christians is to look out for them.
Some object that helping the vulnerable isn’t our responsibility until someone asks us for something. That approach falls hopelessly short of providing the kind of care that God commands. Many more people don’t consider themselves worthy of our help and don’t want to bother us. That’s why we have to be proactive in taking God’s practical love and care outside our home and circle of friends.
People will abuse our trust and take advantage of our generosity. Then again, you do that to God every day and he keeps loving you.
So we must be wise and prudent, but we must also regularly be in positions where it is possible that we will be taken advantage of. It is only in so doing, that will we serve the most vulnerable.