“Now in Joppa there was a disciple named Tabitha (which translated means Dorcas).* She was completely occupied with good deeds and almsgiving.” (Acts 9:36)
Tabitha translates into Dorcas which were respectively in Aramaic and Greek the words for “gazelle.”
In fact, Israel is a part of the world in which the subspecies of this deer-like creature – the Dorcas gazelle – is found.
Tiny in stature at about 2-3.5 feet high at the shoulder, gazelles can run at a sustained pace of 50 mph and can speed up to 100 mph when needed.
The word gazelle itself is derived from the Persian. Symbolically it was seen as a sign of female beauty in Arabic and Persian love poetry, and in the Bible in “Song of Songs.”
So those who wish to be known for their beauty should be known best for their charity.
We often take this to mean our contributions to those who are less fortunate than we. These contributions can be made in goods, services or outright spending. The Church encourages us to practice all three forms of giving.
But there is a fourth dimension to charity that goes over-looked: charity of spirit. In other words, the basic decency with which we treat other human beings by accepting them openly and at face value, without pre-text on our part and being willing to overlook sometimes the subtext of theirs
This is hard to accomplish in a world as cynical, suspicious and partisan as ours. Generosity of our inner self is thought to be an unwise thing to give away, something too easy to fall prey to con artists and abusers.
In the case of Tabitha, it was not an angel, but Peter with whom she has a miraculous interaction.
Tabitha falls ill and dies. Well thought of for her charity, two disciples from Joppa go to Peter in Lydda to come with them to pray over Tabitha. Peter sends the weeping mourners from the room, prays over her then says “Tabitha, rise up!”
She does so, fully restored, astonishing many and leading to a number of conversions.
The moral we are to take from the leap of this gazelle from death back to life: charity, in all its forms, restores us to a way of living that allows our beauty to shine and gives rise to the possibility of interacting with angels and saints.
Such may be recipients of our benevolence, or others who work beside us in acts of giving: “Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over…for with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.” (Luke 6:38)