How much can change with a little time?
In two years we have gone from wondering when a vaccine would be made to now talking about
fourth doses. Masking all the time everywhere to learn how to be comfortable in situations
where we can have the mask off. I think it is a testament to how quickly things can change. To
use a tired phrase, hindsight is 20/20.
This time three years ago, I was stuck in a rut, worried I would always be alone. I took the
rejection from my family as a testament of how valuable I was as a person, and of course when
family does not accept who you are, you can feel worthless. Then change came in little pieces.
Monthly dinners with friends I now consider family. Faith that strengthened so I finally answered
a call to ministry. A sixteen year friendship turned romance and soon to be marriage. It is
amazing how time can change things and how you understand yourself and the world around
you. I must say then that in this way, I identify with Peter, who finds his world shaken constantly
during the course of the Acts of the Apostles.
With Jesus’ ascension to heaven, Peter finds himself in a unique position. The man who once
denied Jesus three times and was tested on the depth of his love three times leads a movement
to spread the word of Jesus. Now this is the sort of journey that brings Peter far from home and
in touch with people who challenge not only how Peter sees and understand himself, but also
his relationship with and understanding of Jesus.
The writer of the Gospel of Luke, who also wrote Acts of the Apostles, sets Peter on a course to
meet Paul. In this way, our story is set up to hand the narrative over to Paul the Apostle, whose
letters as we know, are central to much of the New Testament. Together Peter and Paul decide
that between them, Peter would preach to the Jews and Paul will focus on the gentiles.
Before Peter has that fateful meeting, however, he feels the spirit calling him to continue the
work of Jesus. He preaches about the Jewish Messiah, who came from the Jewish God to save
the Jewish people who is known as Jesus, at least this is Peter’s initial understanding. Yet, as
time passes, Peter is drawn further and further from home and he keeps meeting those who
believe in Jesus, in God, who are gentiles. As he converts people and meets believers, Peter
finds more and more Gentiles who have not become Jewish, yet they follow Jesus.
Peter finds himself in Joppa, being sought out by the loved ones of a Believer named Tabitha.
He is in the area as she passes, and just like Jesus before him, he commands the dead to rise,
only, instead of the little girl of a Jewish priest, it is a Believer of Jesus. Sure enough, Tabitha
rises and in this way Peter finds that not only is his new mission affirmed, but his increasing
contact with the world outside of Judea hints at God’s greater intentions that span beyond the
Children of Israel.
Now, one of the most fascinating experiences I have been having in Seminary is that as I begin
to better understand Jesus as a Jew in his Jewish context, I begin to understand him better as a
follower and believer in Christ. One of my personal favourites was learning how the imagery of a
Shepherd looking after a flock was common in ancient Jewish culture. Sheep are creatures
prone to wandering away out of curiosity. As creatures they can be hard to herd and wrangle
without losing a few. In my mind, whenever Jesus spoke about being like a shepherd, I can
imagine those who made their livelihood this way sometimes chuckled, sometimes groaned but
mostly rolled their eyes at the idea of finding that one last stubborn sheep, or defending them
Equally important is that deep in the tradition of the Jewish people is a responsibility to the
vulnerable. To many Jews, if you tell them to help the vulnerable, their immediate understanding
are Widows, Orphans and Strangers. We see this echoed in Christianity. Paul mentions it many
times, and Peter, as part of his ministry, organizes a group to look after the vulnerable. Tabitha
then represents deeds we are to expect from a Christian who is rewarded with eternal life.
The clothes of the widows who mourn Tabitha were personally made for them by her. There can
be an immense amount of intimacy in making clothes for someone. The process to source the
material that suits the wearer’s needs, to make sure it fits well, when done without expectation
of payment is an intimate act and labour of love. Here these widows are so moved by Tabitha’s
gifts that they bring the clothes to display the good work Tabitha has done to Peter. These
widows, who have no one in their lives, would have been left with rags had Tabitha not
intervened. From there I can only imagine that Tabitha’s relationships with them all grew from
this act of kindness to something so deep that she became central to their community and her
death was met with deep sorrow.
At the core of our Christian duty to help the unfortunate, we need to ask ourselves: ‘who are the
Widows, Orphans and Strangers of today?” When we think what these groups in Jesus’ and
Peter’s time have in common, the short answer is ‘nothing’. These vulnerable people lived as
outcasts who were often in poverty, or in other words, they had nothing. When we look back to
the ancient world we would realize that widows would struggle to survive without a husband to
earn funds for the household, orphans as children would be unable to fend for themselves and
strangers suffer from isolation, being taken advantage of and being misunderstood.
The list of the vulnerable in our modern world is larger than we may realize. The Widows of our
time, in addition to those who lost a spouse are those who have survived their families and
friends, who may have never married or never had children. The Orphans are those who lost
their family, whether through tragedy of death or of being disowned for being true to themselves.
Finally, the strangers of our time are those whose lives we don’t always understand, who suffer
from trauma, mental illness and addictions. These are the people who are often forgotten.
The uniting theme of these groups is that they need someone. Their vulnerability means they
are alone and do not always have the means to take care of themselves in the way they
deserve as a child of God. They need family, and sometimes family does not look like those
who are linked by blood. They look like Tabitha who took the time to make the widows of her
community clothes. They look like the disciple who stood with Jesus’ mother as she sobbed at
his cross. The one who took Mary into his home when Jesus declared ‘woman, this is your son’.
They look like me and you, everytime we spend a moment to talk to someone who is lonely or
invite someone over for a holiday dinner when we know they would have otherwise been by
themselves. A simple action to not abandon the vulnerable can turn into a found family, and that
found family in many ways encompasses all who God wanted us to find as we help to bring our
world into the Kingdom of God.
Which brings me back, full circle in recognizing my own journey. Despite being an outcast who
lost family who did not support me, despite spending years isolated and fearing I would always
be alone as some sort of punishment for being Transgender, I’m here. I did not end up alone.
There are women in my life who have been a mother to me in ways that I desperately needed
and never had growing up. There are men who constantly show me what it means to be a
healthy father figure. There are people who have shown me that if you begin with and end with
love and kindness, you can never go wrong.
Where others may have given up on outcasts like myself because understanding who we are
can be difficult, we, as Christians are called to be like a shepherd. We should furiously seek to
be there for others like a shepherd that seeks that one lost sheep. In this way we protect the
sacred within a person from the predators of this world who will try to rob them of their dignity as
a child of God. And who knows, maybe in the process you will find the adopted son, daughter,
sibling, father or mother you never knew you needed in your life?
Happy Mother’s Day to all.
Thanks be to God,
How much can change with a little time?