May 9, 2008

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

Biblical women: Sapphira, Tabitha and Lydia

John F. Fink(Thirty-ninth in a series of columns)

Don’t lie to St. Peter! According to Chapter 5 of the Acts of the Apostles, Sapphira did, and look what happened to her.

The early Church held everything in common, much like a religious order does today. Acts says that those who owned property or houses would sell them and lay the proceeds of the sale at the feet of the Apostles. Then the proceeds were distributed to each member according to need.

Sapphira and her husband, Ananias, decided not to do that. After they sold a piece of property, they kept some of the proceeds for themselves. Ananias, who wasn’t with Sapphira at the time, put the remainder at the feet of the Apostles.

Peter wasn’t dumb. He said to Ananias, “Why has Satan filled your heart so that you lied to the Holy Spirit and retained part of the price of the land? … You have lied not to human beings, but to God” (Acts 5:3-4).

When Ananias heard those words, he fell down dead. Men came in, carried him out and buried him.

Three hours later, Sapphira came in, unaware of what had happened. Peter said to her, “Tell me, did you sell the land for this amount?” (Acts 5:8)

She answered, “Yes, for that amount” (Acts 5:8).

“Listen,” Peter said, “the footsteps of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out” (Acts 5:9).

Sapphira also fell down dead. They buried her next to her husband.

Another woman, though, expressed the right attitude toward material possessions. Her name was Tabitha in Aramaic, or Dorcas in Greek (both words meant “gazelle”).

Chapter 9 of Acts says that she lived in Joppa (near modern Tel Aviv). She was completely occupied with good deeds and almsgiving, particularly known for the tunics and cloaks that she made for others. But she fell sick and died.

Peter was in Lydda, near Joppa, at the time so two men went to tell him about Tabitha’s death. Peter went to Joppa and was taken to an upstairs room, where widows were weeping. Peter sent them out of the room, knelt by Tabitha and prayed then said, “Tabitha, rise up” (Acts 9:40).

She opened her eyes, saw Peter and sat up. Peter helped her to her feet and took her to the mourning widows. Naturally, this miracle became widely known throughout Joppa, resulting in numerous conversions. Peter then remained in Joppa for a long time with a man named Simon, a tanner.

Lydia was another woman in Acts, Chapter 16. Paul met her when he went to Philippi in Macedonia. One day, he went along a river where women had gathered, probably doing their laundry. Lydia, described as “a dealer in purple cloth, from the city of Thyatira, a worshiper of God” (Acts 16:14), was among them.

After listening to Paul, she and her household were baptized. Then she invited Paul to stay at her home, and Paul did so.

Later, after Paul and Silas were released from prison in Philippi, they returned to Lydia’s home, where Christians were assembled. †

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