The classic story of Tobit and his son Tobiah have charmed and amused listeners for generations even before Jesus’ birth. For it is a story which speaks of family and all the realities families deal with: anguish, joy, aging, illness, end of life, patience, growth and of course marriage and commitment. And indeed this is one of those stories with a real happy ending. Mom is happy for her son whom she assumed was dead and would never see again and he has finally returned after a successful mission to bring back some of Dad’s money. Dad is happy because the mission was a success, and he experiences a tremendous healing being able to see again. Tobiah, the son, is happy he has obediently completed the mission his father sent him to do thus bringing honor to both his father and his father’s name. Moreover, he now has a bride, a new member of the family which is a blessing to the whole family. And Sarah, his new wife is happy. She is well received and welcomed by the family. Even the Jewish people of Nineveh are happy and joyous. Everyone seems happy and joyous.
The book of Tobit was probably written about 200 years before Jesus’ birth. And most every Jew would know this story much like an average Christian of today knows the story of the Prodigal Son. And if you know this story of Tobit, certainly it is easy to see how Jesus could use such a story to spin off teachings such as the Prodigal Son, or even references to weddings, brides and bridegrooms. In these parables, Jesus is clear that this is exactly what the kingdom of God is like. And these parables are about happy people. Is it any different in the gospel today? Not at all.
The line directly preceding today’s Gospel says, "And no one dared to ask him [Jesus] any more questions." Who were the ones asking him questions? If we go back and look at the 12th chapter of Mark’s Gospel we find the first group of people to question Jesus were the Pharisees and Herodians. In an attempt to trick Jesus they ask him about the need to pay the census tax to Caesar (Mk 12:13-17). This is followed by the Sadducees testing Jesus on the Question of the Resurrection (Mk 12:18-27). Lastly, a scribe engages Jesus on the greatest commandment (Mk 12:28-34). Think of it in terms of a theological tennis match. All of Jesus’ enemies choose to give their best serve against Jesus. First are the Pharisees and Herodians, second are the Sadducees, and lastly a scribe. In each case Jesus returns their serve with a fast, direct, and un-returnable shot. Each is sequentially defeated. Now it is Jesus’ serve. David’s prophetic utterance speaks of a divine one in present tense, not future tense. Therefore the lord (Messiah) must have been in existence during David’s reign. Of course the Jews of Jesus’ day don’t want to hear this. This is a real theological conundrum for them. The people who think they know it all get stumped and the common people who don’t need all the answers find joy and delight. What a paradox. What is the delight about? I think it is that a commoner from Galilee has taken on the big boys and outshined the wealthy, and educated religious leaders.
Here’s a side note. In the past ten years I’ve spent considerable time in Catholic Basilicas, Hindu, Sikh and Buddhist temples, and even a few Mosques. As I’ve watched people in all these settings I’ve noticed a common "posture". For the most part, people don’t seem concerned with theological conundrums or theological challenges. For the most part they seem to be good people who have a need to express themselves before the divine and many of them enjoy being with friends and family. They like "hanging out" in sacred ground, sharing food, telling stories, and, of course taking photos. They like to be with people they care about and they do appreciate the opportunity to pray. Sometimes this prayer is verbal, sometimes silent, and frequently it involves some type of gesture. Visiting the sacred areas and having the ability to pray is necessary for these people. I see the same with people who come on retreat. There’s always a greater desire to "get right with God" than asking the question what do I need God to do to get right with me? Because I find this so universal across structures of faith, I tend to believe that it must have been true in Jesus’ day too. I believe the people who were there in the temple area with Jesus weren’t joyous over Jesus’ theological debates. I believe their "delight" was much more a cheer for the underdog.
As we remember St. Boniface this day, he was a man whose integrity inspired him to live what he taught, and teach what he lived. We see in his life that he made decisions based not on his selfishness but on the good of others.
I guess that leaves us with a few questions for reflecting on today. What do you delight in? Do you live your life in the pursuit of happiness? Is your definition of happiness the same as the Holy Spirit’s gift of joy and delight? How do you find peace within yourself when you make decisions based on things you think are going to make you happy but they are merely acts of selfishness?
Fr. David Colhour, C.P. is on the staff at Christ the King Passionist Retreat Center, Citrus Heights, California.