Summary: Dorcas was not a mother, but she mothered the widows.
Many ears ago, Erma Bombeck wrote this wonderful tribute to mother’s for her Mother’s Day Column. You have probably heard it, but I thought it would be appropriate for today … “When God Created Mothers" [Copyrighted material available online if you choose to share it]
But while Erma was famous for many things, including this tribute, she also spoke often on mothers who didn’t get to fulfil the traditional role. I remember her tribute to Moms whose children were in jail, the lonely ones. Or the times she talked about women who had lost children, and the loneliness they felt on this day when they didn’t have a child to honor them.
While God created male and female in God’s own image, God also created them different and unique. That uniqueness doesn’t make one more or less than the other, it simply helps them to complement one another. And so, within the woman, the one created to bear children, God created this deep desire to nurture. And when a woman does not have a family to nurture, she often uses it to nurture others.
That is why long before women were accepted as doctors, they became nurses. Before they were allowed as professors, they were invited as teachers into elementary classrooms. When someone was needed to hold things together in the office, they were the ones called to be secretaries. Only later would their full talents be realized and honored. Women are both nurturers and intelligent businesspeople. They take care of others, but that isn’t their only skill.
And, just so you know, while men are skilled at other tasks traditionally given to them, they are powerful nurturers in their own right. I find it especially empowering to see how this generation of men are calling upon that skill and taking more time to care for their children.
In fact, I love the idea that rather than Mother’s Day in Great Britain, they celebrate “Mothering Sunday,” to honor all of those who have mothered us, whether it is our own Moms, our Grandparents, aunts and uncles, teachers, or our fathers. All who mother are blessed on this day.
So, it is interesting, here on Mother’s Day, that we have a story about a woman who was not a mother. Here at the bedside of Dorcas, we do not find a sorrowing husband. There are no children weeping for a lost mother. There are no parents to mourn their daughter. There are only the widows of the church, gathered at her side. We do not know if she was a widow herself, or what circumstances brought her here.
We only know that without a traditional family, Dorcas was still loving and giving to others.
There are two things about this passage that are not apparent on the surface. The first is that the word disciple here is the ONLY time in the New Testament that the female form of the word is used. Everywhere else, the word “mathetes” is used. Here it says “mathetria.” It is as if Luke wants to emphasize the power of her loving acts by acknowledging them as feminine acts.
She was a seamstress, and over the years I have found many sewing groups which bear her name. I joined one in my younger days which made small comforters for babies born in poverty. The small pieced comforters we made were made with love.
The second thing you might not notice in the English version of this is actually carried in the word “showed.” The women showed Peter the clothing she had made for them. It uses the middle voice of the participle “epideiknymenai” and it indicates that the clothing they showed Peter is the clothing they were wearing.
In first century Palestine, widows were powerless and counted on their children and others for their support. The church became the providers for these women who had no children, and it was one of their first missions. Later James would write a letter that stated our obligation. In James 1:27 we read: “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.”
So, the ONLY clothing the women had were the garments Dorcas had made for them.
As I addressed the commentaries this week, some of them struggled with how to present the miracle that Peter brought to Dorcas. Why was Peter called? Did they expect a miracle, or did they want him to hold the funeral and pray for those who were bereft by their loss? Or perhaps they brought him so that he could mourn with them.
But, instead, we find Peter raising her from the dead. This time there would be no funeral. Dorcas would die, but this was not her time.