Commentary on Acts 9:31-42
Following the conversion of Saul, persecutions come to an end for the time being and the new Church enjoys peace all through Judea and Jerusalem, Galilee and Samaria. These were the places where, up to now, evangelisation have taken place. The communities experience the consolation of the Holy Spirit, in other words, the joy which their new faith brought to them. The work of the Spirit is constantly noted throughout the Acts. Which is why the book is sometimes called the Acts of the Holy Spirit.
We are then told of two miracles performed by Peter, another sign that the power of Jesus through the Spirit is working in him. The healing and whole-making and life-giving work of Jesus continues.
First, in the town of Lydda a paralytic is cured. Lydda was a town about 5 km (3 miles) north of the road connecting Joppa (Jaffa today) on the Mediterranean coast and Jerusalem, and about 20 km (12 miles) from Joppa.
In Lydda Peter found a man named Aeneas, bed-ridden with a form of paralysis. As Peter had gone there to visit the believers, it is likely that Aeneas was one of the Christians. With the power of Jesus and in a similar manner Peter orders the man to get up (rise, resurrect to new life) and make, that is, fold up his bed which he does not need now during the day.
We are told that all the inhabitants of Lydda and Sharon, after seeing what Peter had done, “turned to the Lord”. The fertile plain of Sharon runs about 80 km (50 miles) along the Mediterranean coast, roughly from Joppa to Caesarea. In the context, however, the reference here is more likely to a village in the neighbourhood of Lydda instead of to such a large district. An Egyptian papyrus refers to a town by that name in Palestine.
Then, in the town of Joppa a much loved woman, who spent her life doing good for others, dies.
In accordance with both Jewish and Greek custom her body was washed and purified and, awaiting burial, was laid out in an upstairs room. This laying out would happen if the burial was delayed. In Jerusalem, a body had to be buried on the day of death but outside Jerusalem three days could be allowed. (Given the hot climate this is understandable. Muslims today also bury their dead very quickly.)
Her friends then hear that Peter is in nearby Lydda. In answer to their urgent request, Peter comes. Whether they wanted his presence either for consolation or for a cure, he was urged to come quickly before the burial took place. They tell him of all the good she had done and the widows (the most insecure people of that time) show him the gifts she had donated to them.
As Jesus did with the daughter of Jairus, Peter tells all to withdraw from the room. Unlike Jesus, he kneels down and prays. The power he sought was not his own but his Lord’s. “Tabitha,” he told her, “Stand up.” Again, they are words summoning to new life as he helped her to her feet. Only then were the believers and the widows called in.
Not surprisingly, the news of this spread like wildfire through the whole town and was the cause for many to believe in Jesus and the Gospel.
Jesus’ healing and life-giving work continues among us still. The only condition for us to experience it is our faith and trust in Jesus. It might be good for us to realise that each one of us can, in our own way, be a source of healing for others.
The normal way for Jesus to act is through the agency of his brothers and sisters, the members of his Body.