From Lament to Praise
As we move into the ordinary time we have read this week the story of Tobit, Tobiah and Sarah. With the background in Babylon we know it is during the time of exile. It seems that Tobit is very aware of the sins of Israel; they suffer for being unfaithful to the commandment. He is man of reverence. He will risk all to do what is right. But even Tobit is pulled down in the midst of the sufferings of his people, and his own suffering of blindness. He lashes out unjustly at his wife whose feelings he really hurts.
In the parallel story his son Tobiah meets Sarah, a relative who is not only eligible but also captures his heart immediately. The makings of this potentially ‘made in heaven marriage’ are complicated by a demon and his hand in the previous seven marriages that have all ended on the night of the marriage with the death of the bridegroom. Sarah, like Tobit, is at the point of despair. She would hang herself but fortunately she is selfless enough to think of her father’s happiness and would spare him such a grief. She would be happy to die of natural causes.
Both Tobit and Sarah pray to God out of their emptiness. There is little to hope for. Their prayers are truly laments from their hearts. “The prayer of these two suppliants was heard in the glorious presence of Almighty God.”
The story will end with the rejoicing of a newly married and happy couple, and tears of joy that flow from Tobit’s healed eyes. Raphael announces that God commissioned him to heal Tobit and Sarah, and says “I am Raphael, one of the seven angels who enter and serve before the Glory of the Lord”.
This is a story of God’s faithful love that does not abandon us in the worst times. Even in the midst of the punishment of exile God was listening, in physical suffering, in the despair caused by evil entering into the most holy of relationships.
We conclude Mark’s gospel this week and will begin Matthew on Monday. This final week we hear parables of love with echoes of the Easter season still fresh among us. The parables the coin that is owed to Caesar against God who deserves everything, and the widow who offers the treasure of her little coins made precious because they come from a heart full of love. Today we hear of the Son of David will sit at the Father’s right hand, and earlier this week a teaching by Jesus on the mystery of eternal life.
We can identify with Tobit. There are things that bring tears to our eyes, suffering, and the bad things of exile or evil that reach out to touch us The laments of the book of Tobit give way to praise of God even before Raphael’s announcement of who he is. Reminded of the victory of Easter and our call to give all of our love to God whose love does not forget or abandon us, even in the midst of our laments may we give God the praise of our love.
Fr. William Murphy, CP is the pastor of Immaculate Conception parish in Jamaica, New York.