Wednesday, May 24, 2006

The Book of Tobit

It has always been one of my favorite stories.

Tobit is a good man. He risks his life to bury the dead. He gives to the poor and performs works of charity. His faith is strong. Little by little the way of the world and a hard life wear him down. He is now even blind. He offers a prayer to the Lord that ends:

And now deal with me according to thy pleasure; command my spirit to be taken up, that I may depart and become dust. For it is better for me to die than to live, because I have heard false reproaches, and great is the sorrow within me. Command that I now be released from my distress to go to the eternal abode; do not turn thy face away from me.
Tobit 2:6

Far away, there is a good woman. A kinswoman to Tobit. Sarah. Seven of her husbands have been slain by a demon. People suspect her. People abuse her. Everything she loves and hopes is falling in around her. She offers a prayer at the very same moment that ends:

Why should I live? But if it be not pleasing to thee to take my life, command that respect be shown to me and pity be taken upon me, and that I hear reproach no more.
Tobit 2:15

And the Lord responds:

And Raphael was sent to heal the two of them: to scale away the white films of Tobit's eyes; to give Sarah the daughter of Raguel in marriage to Tobias the son of Tobit, and to bind Asmodeus the evil demon, because Tobias was entitled to possess her. At that very moment Tobit returned and entered his house and Sarah the daughter of Raguel came down from her upper room.
Tobit 2:17

Tobit remembers that he has depostied a large sum of money with a cousin Gabel. He wants to send his son Tobias to get it. Should the Lord take him, his family will not be left wanting. But his son need a guide for the road, and he finds the Angel Raphael in disguise. He leads him along the roads.

At one point while bathing Tobit is attacked by a fish. The angel tells him to save parts of it since they are a medicine. Rapahel tells him of Sarah, and his kinsman Raguel. The Angel takes them there so he can arrange their marriage.

The angel has already spoken (before they arrived at the house of Raguel), what is to me, one of the most beautiful lines of scripture:

Do not be afraid, for she was destined for you from eternity
Tobit 6:17

People are destined for each other. If a person is made for the married life they are made by two. There is a translation of the line that is "before time began" instead of "from eternity". Same thing...a beautiful phrase. You are made for one another.

The demon is driven away. The Angel chases him down and takes care of him. Sarah and Tobias are married. a real marriage, it says:

O Lord, I am not taking this sister of mine because of lust, but with sincerity. Grant that I may find mercy and may grow old together with her
Tobit 8:7

Grow old together. They are not possessions to each other, they are one.

And the instructions from Raguel are not the instructions for taking care of property. They are the words of a father who loves his child:

The Lord of heaven bring you back safely, dear brother, and grant me to see your children by my daughter Sarah, that I may rejoice before the Lord. See, I am entrusting my daughter to you; do nothing to grieve her.
Tobit 10:12

They return, after a long feast, to Tobit. His blindness is healed and he sees his family. The angel reveals himself in drama:

Praise God and give thanks to him; exalt him and give thanks to him in the presence of all the living for what he has done for you. It is good to praise God and to exalt his name, worthily declaring the works of God. Do not be slow to give him thanks.
It is good to guard the secret of a king, but gloriously to reveal the works of God. Do good, and evil will not overtake you.

Prayer is good when accompanied by fasting, almsgiving, and righteousness. A little with righteousness is better than much with wrongdoing. It is better to give alms than to treasure up gold. For almsgiving delivers from death, and it will purge away every sin. Those who perform deeds of charity and of righteousness will have fulness of life; but those who commit sin are the enemies of their own lives.

"I will not conceal anything from you. I have said, `It is good to guard the secret of a king, but gloriously to reveal the works of God.' And so, when you and your daughter-in-law Sarah prayed, I brought a reminder of your prayer before the Holy One; and when you buried the dead, I was likewise present with you.

When you did not hesitate to rise and leave your dinner in order to go and lay out the dead, your good deed was not hidden from me, but I was with you.

So now God sent me to heal you and your daughter-in-law Sarah. I am Raphael, one of the seven holy angels who present the prayers of the saints and enter into the presence of the glory of the Holy One."

They were both alarmed; and they fell upon their faces, for they were afraid.
But he said to them, "Do not be afraid; you will be safe. But praise God for ever.
For I did not come as a favor on my part, but by the will of our God. Therefore praise him for ever.
Tobit 12:6-18

The point:

God does not abandon his people who have faith in Him.

Good works flow from faith. Faith guides our good works. Two sides of a coin to be used to help others.

Marriage is not about ownership or the use of another, but love.

In marriage we are made for each other from before time began. Made to be one together.

As Tobit prays in the end:

If you turn to him with all your heart and with all your soul, to do what is true before him, then he will turn to you and will not hide his face from you. But see what he will do with you; give thanks to him with your full voice. Praise the Lord of righteousness, and exalt the King of the ages.
Tobit 13:6

Turn to Him with all your heart and soul...have faith.
Do what is true before Him...good works.
He will not hid His face from you...God is faithful.

A simple story that I have always loved, Tobias even has a dog.

(On a side note there is a nice novel, written in the first person from the Angel's view. It is called On The Road With The Archangel by Frederick Buechner. I liked it alot.)

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