4 June 2009. Thursday of the 9th Week in Ordinary Time
Tobit 6:1-11, 7:1 & 9-17; 8:4-9 Psalm 128; Mark 12, 28-34
Let’s take the introduction from the New Jerome Biblical Commentary. The Book of Tobit is a Hebrew romance. It tells us of the love story of Tobiah and Sarah at its helm; but the focus is the joining of two families by their union and Divine aid given in answer to Tobit and Sarah’s prayers. Thus, the climax is the healing of Tobit’s blindness and Sarah’s affliction. Moreover, it is a deuterocanonical; meaning it is not included in the Hebrew canon and therefore, the Protestant canon. St. Jerome translated it into Latin from Aramaic; Sts. Augustine and Ambrose upheld its canonicity. Then, the book was accepted by the Councils of Hippo (393) and Carthage (419), and appears in the Vulgate (the Latin version of the Bible in the Roman Catholic Church). The Council of Trent in 1546 accepted its canonicity. The great leaders of the Church like Clement of Rome, Polycarp, Clement of Alexandria and Origen quoted and considered the book inspired.
The book of Tobit began with two people in distress. Tobit became blind from cataracts in Nineveh; and Sarah in Ecbatana found herself husbandless after seven of them died during the night. Sarah’s affliction was attributed to a demon called Asmodeus (from the Persion folklore, “The Monster in the Bridal Chamber”). In answer to their prayers, God sends Raphael, the archangel, to them. When Tobit needed money which he deposited with his relative, Gabael in Media, he sent his son, Tobiah, on a journey. Tobiah’s guide was Raphael. On the first part of their journey, Tobiah was nearly endangered by a large fish, which also contained the medicine to cure both Tobit’s cataracts and Tobiah’s future wife. To cut the story short, Tobiah was betrothed to Sarah and survived the night in answer to the couple’s prayer before they went to bed. Raphael chased the demon and bound it in the desert of Upper Egypt. The wedding was sealed by a written contract as was customary. And the marriage formula was articulated, “She is my wife and I am her husband from this day forever.” In the end, the marriage was consummated, Tobiah didn’t die as Raguel (Sarah’s father) expected and the wedding was celebrated twice the traditional number of days. Finally, the money of Tobit was recovered and Tobit was healed. In the end, Tobit prays in gratitude to God.
The purpose of the book of Tobit is to edify. It gives several teachings: that almsgiving is better than to heap up gold, and blessings are derived from acts of charity such as burying the dead, feeding the hungry, and clothing the naked. But the most important, I believe, is that it tells us that God is just, He does not forget those who practice virtue such as Tobit, and no matter what befalls the good, He will someday turn misfortune into joy. It tells us that our good deeds may not bear fruit immediately in our earthly life, but it will eventually in God’s time.
As in the Gospel, Jesus tells us of a hierarchy in our loving. Loving God is the first and primary commandment. From this love flows the second commandment: to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. This is the story of Tobit. He was a righteous and just man who loved God foremost. Suffering is not a punishment from God, as the Jews believed, but a test in our ordinary faithful lives. In the long run, God continues to reward the just and punishes the wicked, though not immediately. As the first reading tells us, we, believers are called to trust God and then to mirror in our daily lives God’s justice, mercy and righteousness, just as Tobit mirrored these attributes in his daily life.