Resurrecting the heart- Saturday, 3rd week of Easter- Acts 9:31-42
The pericope of today’s Gospel has some interesting details to offer us. There are two miracle stories that are both worked by Peter. One in the city of Lydda, modern day Ludd which is about twenty two miles north west of Jerusalem and the second in the port city of Joppa.
Lydda is located in the midst of a rich and fertile plain. It was one of the most westerly of the Jewish settlements after the Exile, the site of which is described as Gehaharashim, the valley of the smiths or craftsmen. It was here that Peter healed the paralytic and secured many converts (Acts 9:32-35). It was not a Jewish town, but pagan, under the name Diospolis.
The miracle of the healing of Aeneas who had been bed ridden for eight years brought about a conversion of unprecedented number. We are told that “all the residents of Lydda and Sharon turned to the Lord” after the miracle. Sharon was not a town as Lydda, but rather a level tract, the maritime plain between Carmel and Joppa. It was once covered by a great oak forest; full of quiet but rich beauty.
The man healed in Lydda was merely paralyzed and yet the results were stupendous. In Joppa, it was a dead girl who was raised to life and yet the response seemed almost luke-warm in comparison; we are simply told that “many believed in the Lord.” Conversion, as I have said before, is divinely ordained in conjunction with the openness of the human element. Joppa had a large Jewish population, yet it was not open enough to be touched by so great a miracle than the resurrection from the dead itself, whereas the Gentile town of Lydda was far more receptive to a healing of a paralyzed man.
But Joppa held a special citizen who was deeply loved. Tabitha, we are told, is a disciple; the only woman in the New Testament who has been specifically called a ‘disciple’. The very word disciple in Greek, Mathetria (feminine), comes from the Greek word from which the English word ‘math’ is derived. A disciple is one who ‘thinks things through’ like one would in a math problem.
Tabitha had evidently won over a number of people. The Bible records her as devoted to good works and acts of charity. The women of the area thought well of her for when Peter came, they showed him the garments made by her, perhaps for the poor, or just to share how talented this disciple was. We will never know why the other disciples called for Peter from Lydda, we will never know if they even believed that Peter would raise her. Perhaps they simply wanted the leader ‘of the way’ to preside over the death of so great a disciple.
The miracle stories in today’s Gospel show us not only how the early Church grew but the qualities of people within that Church, be it Tabitha or her friends who loved her enough to call Peter. Unfortunately, Church for many today, is a structure and not the ECCLESIA or “calling out” that it was meant to be. Perhaps it is the unbelievers who are more prone to God’s working in their lives in simple ways as compared to the many resurrections in ours; and yet it barely moves our heart.
Fr Warner D’Souza