The Church was at peace and growing because it had been freed from the persecution of Christians, which commenced with the death of Stephen. This temporary cessation from persecution by the Jewish Leaders was owing to the conversion of the chief agent of that persecution: Saul.
After his conversion, Saul, now called Paul, was no longer trying to stamp out this new Faith. He was actively spreading it!
Image by falco
By Tim Trainor
The Church was at peace and growing because it had been freed from the persecution of Christians, which commenced with the death of Stephen. This temporary cessation from persecution by the Jewish Leaders was owing to the conversion of the chief agent of that persecution: Saul. After his conversion, Saul, now called Paul, was no longer trying to stamp out this new Faith. He was actively spreading it!
It may also be in some measure owing to the persecution that they were suffering from Caligula. He ordered a statue of himself to be set up in the Temple and instructed his Roman Army to extinguish, “in blood,” any attempt at opposition. The Leaders now had something else on their minds besides just persecuting Christians.
Luke next describes the story of a much-loved disciple who lives in Joppa. In Aramaic, her name is Tabitha (“gazelle”). Luke says she is a person “who was always doing good and helping the poor” (see Acts 9:36). But suddenly, Tabitha dies, and the church in Joppa is mourning its loss of a much-appreciated and needed servant.
Several important and striking parallels arise between the raising of Jairus’ daughter as recorded in Mark 5, and the raising of Tabitha in Acts 9.
Thought by scholars to have been a wealthy young widow, Tabitha thrived as a seamstress, likely running her own clothing business. Her community’s reaction indicates that her death was shocking and left a big hole in the local church. Even in death, Tabitha continued to bring good to her neighbors because they expected a miracle. She was laid out in an upper room, thus not buried immediately per Jewish law. The Apostle Peter was called in.
Like the story of the raising of Jairus’ daughter by Jesus, a holy man appears. But instead of those who laugh at miracles, this time, the house was filled with widows who plead for one. Cyprian of Carthage tells us of the many good works Tabitha had conferred on other suffering widows and the clothing assistance she gave to the poor.
Also, remarkably, this passage is the only place in the New Testament where we find the feminine form of the Greek word for “disciple” used in reference to Tabitha.
The widows in the house believed Tabitha deserved to be recalled back to life. When the church hears that Peter is nearby in Lydda, they send two men urging him to come to see what he can do. When Peter arrived at Joppa, he was taken to the house where Tabitha lay washed but not buried, awaiting his arrival. The widows are gathered, crying and showing Peter the clothing that Tabitha made for the poor. Peter went upstairs where her body lay. He sent everyone out of the room, kneeled, and prayed. Finally, turning to the dead woman, he said, “Tabitha, rise up.” He took Tabitha’s hand, helped her to her feet, and presented her to the others.
Several similarities show up between this account in Acts and the raising of Jairus’ daughter by Jesus in Mark 5:
Almost as a footnote, Luke mentions in verse 43, one verse after the end of our Acts reading for today, that “Peter stayed in Joppa for some time with a tanner named Simon.”
A tanner isn’t someone who likes to lie out in the sun on the beach. To the Jewish people, a tanner was practically an outcast. Jewish law regarded the work as defiling since it required working with animal carcasses, blood, and skins, which were ritually unclean. I would add, tanners smelled bad.
That Peter, who was born and raised a Jew, would stay with a tanner, not just for a night, but “for some time” [maybe months] shows that he had begun to put aside some of the 607 practices and beliefs he had been taught and that he had clung to since he was a boy. Practices that he was now learning were not essential.
This suggests that Peter is already becoming open to not being overly scrupulous in observing some of the Jewish ceremonial traditions that were blocking the spreading of the gospel to Gentiles! Yet, we will read later, he still professes to be careful not to eat meats considered ceremonially unclean.
Peter begins to have a more open mind regarding Jewish beliefs and practices. This opens the door for what Luke will relate to us shortly in the next chapter of Acts: of Peter being further “educated ” on whom God was and whom He loved, focusing less on matters of “clean and unclean.” We see this happen when Peter meets Cornelius, a God-fearing Centurion, and inaugurates the beginning of the spread of Christianity to Gentiles by Baptizing him and his whole household without requiring circumcision first!
Cornelius is considered one of the first Gentile converts. In Antioch, the disciples, now consisting of Jews and Gentiles, were first called Christians.
In our Gospel reading from John, we find: “This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?” In the Engineering portion of my mind, I, too, find the Eucharist difficult to accept. However, my faith in the clear words of Jesus in John chapter 6 and my experience of the consolation it gives me helps me in my heart to believe that: What looks like bread and wine are the body and blood of Jesus, given to me as soulful food and drink. I thank Jesus every time for this most wonderful of gifts and ask him to strengthen my weak faith further.
I, like Simon Peter, answer him, “Lord, to whom can we [I] go? You have the words of eternal life. We [I] have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.” I stay with these words, and let them resound in my heart, challenging and encouraging me as I find myself uttering them to Jesus after holy Communion.
Pope Francis' mad comments in 2015 about our Gospel reading from John: “He (Peter) does not say “where shall we go?” but “to whom shall we go?” The underlying problem is not about leaving and abandoning the work undertaken but to whom to go too. From Peter’s question, we understand that fidelity to God is a question of fidelity to a person to whom we bind ourselves. We walk together on the same road. All we have [or do] in the world does not satisfy our infinite hunger. We need Jesus, to be with Him, to be nourished at His table, on His words of eternal life!”
I think the Pope is right on target. In the end, it’s not about the where, what, or how (think back to the 'unclean and clean' thing Peter had to learn). It always ends up being about each of us, like Peter, finding and clinging to the 'Infinite Whom' that the Pope mentions
Finally, consider Psalm 116's Responsorial Response of “How shall I make a return to the Lord for all the good He has done for me?”Compose in your mind a personal answer to it as you bring to mind all the good God has done for you, especially those things/thoughts that came to mind as you dug into the characters and situations in these three readings for today. Consider what overall “return” you should make with your own life as your personal “sacrifice of thanksgiving,” as mentioned in the last line of Psalm 116.