1) When they had finished eating and
drinking, they wanted to retire. So they brought the young man out and led him
to the bedroom. 2) Tobiah, mindful
of Raphael’s instructions, took the fish’s liver and heart from the bag where
he had them, and put them on the embers intended for incense. 3) The odor of the fish repulsed the
demon, and it fled to the upper regions of Egypt; Raphael went in pursuit
of it and there bound it hand and foot. Then Raphael returned immediately.
does not describe a typical exorcism, either by Jewish or Christian
tradition. So what does it say symbolically? That a force from the waters—the flow of
life, the sustainer of the desert, the unconscious, the mystical—seized Tobias
by the foot—his very foundation.
Catholics would see the fish as representing Christ. The angel tells him to not kick it away but
seize it, be nourished by it, and let it bring healing. So here he offers up the life and blood, the
mind and heart (the ancients thought that reason began in the liver, not the
brain) of his salvation—Catholics would interpret this as the power of the
It smells bad to the demon, and probably to the humans as well. And we’ve already discussed how this can
symbolize accepting the messy, smelly aspects of marriage along with the good,
in contrast to the false “love” of Asmodeus, who demands that everything be
But take it a step further. Why do
Catholics value this story? Because we
see our church as the Bride of Christ, and this wedding as prophetic of our
collective marriage to God. And it’s not
always privileged to marry Jesus, in the sense of getting pampered by God. Driving the bad things out of our lives
doesn’t always have a sweet smell to us.
Think of Sarah.
She was an innocent victim, no doubt about it, but there could not help
but be something darkly flattering about being the object of a supernatural
being’s jealous desire. And the more the
public condemned her as some sort of
femme fatale for her serial widowhood, the more she would think that she had
nobody to love her except Asmodeus. So
often the forces that destroy us—drugs and alcohol misuse, compulsive
overeating, denial, the loneliness of self-righteousness, the drive to
vengeance, all manner of
seductions—become our poisoned consolation in the very torment that they
create. We do not always choose the forces
that become our demon-lovers, but we can, with prayer and loving support,
choose to let go of them, even though this at first seems odious, even
miserable—as miserable and seemingly messed-up as the stink of burning fish on
our wedding night.
We also see, in this passage, Raphael going into
angel-mode, pursuing Asmodeus to Egypt and binding him. The Israelites saw the desert as the haven of
demons, and Egypt as a place of enslavers.
So he that once enslaved Sarah has himself become bound.
4) When Sarah’s
parents left the bedroom and closed the door behind them, Tobiah rose from bed
and said to his wife, “My sister, come, let us pray and beg our Lord to grant
us mercy and protection.”
COMMENTARY: Catholic scholars consider this the real
exorcism, following upon the symbolic one.
With prayer, we believe, all things are possible.
5) She got
up, and they started to pray and beg that they might be protected. He began
with these words:
“Blessed are you, O God of our ancestors;
blessed be your name forever and ever!
Let the heavens and all your creation
bless you forever.
again we see that every prayer in this book begins with worship. And so does the prayer of Jesus begin, “Our
Father who art in Heaven, hallowed be thy name!” But how often we Christians skip this step
and go straight into the “gimme” part of the prayer. And then we curse God if we don’t get
everything on our wish-list. We have
become materialistic and forgotten what The Sacred means, forgotten awe, and
treat God as one more tool at our disposal in the conquest of everything we can
grab, mistaking His generosity and mercy for a sign that He belongs to us. Nope, we belong to Him.
6) You made Adam, and you made his
to be his helper and support;
and from these two the human race has come.
You said, ‘It is not good for the man to be alone;
let us make him a helper like himself.’
Catholics traditionally use this passage in our marriage
ceremonies. And we also use this
reference to call marriage the first sacrament.
This has a lot to do with why we treasure it so highly.
7) Now, not with lust,
but with fidelity I take this kinswoman as my wife.
Send down your mercy on me and on her,
and grant that we may grow old together.
Bless us with children.”
8) They said
together, “Amen, amen!”
does not mean that lust is wrong between husband and wife (otherwise they
couldn’t expect to be blessed with children!) but that it does not make a good
primary motive to marry, and does not lead to much joy in growing old
together. But to begin with
fidelity—that deep loyalty between two people—creates a foundation where
growing old together becomes delicious.
Tobiah also intends this prayer as an antidote to the
selfish lust of Asmodeus, and the writer intends us to see the contrast between
the right and wrong way to approach marriage.
Asmodeus didn’t care how much his “affection” hurt Sarah, how much it
horrified her every time he killed someone for her. Asmodeus fancied himself a spouse, but in
fact he was a rapist—he wanted power over Sarah.
Pope John Paul II tried to reference this in a sermon
where he condemned Asmodean lust in marriage.
Anyone who heard the sermon through would have understood, when he spoke
in the overtly stated context of men forcing wives who were tired or sick to
perform sexually on command, that he meant the utter selfishness of spousal
rape, of thinking that the wife exists only for the husband’s gratification and
has no right to say no—a position held by too many who call themselves
Christians. He called it adultery to
lust, in that selfish sense, after one’s wife, because the husband isn’t making
love to his wife, there’s nothing loving at all about it, he’s making love to
his own selfishness and hurting her in the process.
of understanding this, though,
the newspapers (at least in America) attacked him for allegedly calling
to desire one’s wife. It didn’t fit
their black and white narratives, dividing the world not only into
left and right, but into the narrow American satereotypes
of these terms. They had already put the
Pope in the right wing camp, so they couldn’t imagine him saying
Tobiah here is saying that he hasn’t driven the demon out only to replace
him. His fidelity to Sarah comes before
his lust for her. He wants partnership
with her, not simply possession of her body.
9) Then they went to bed for the
night But Raguel got
up and summoned his servants. They went out with him and dug a grave, 10) for he said, “Perhaps Tobiah will die;
then we would be a laughingstock and an object of mockery.” 11) When they had finished digging the grave,
Raguel went back into the house and called his wife, 12) saying,
“Send one of the maids in to see whether he is alive. If he has died, let us
bury him without anyone knowing about it.”
COMMENTARY: Poor man!
To be so conditioned for disaster that he gets a grave ready
And who is laughing at the frequency of these
tragedies? All too often the humor of the oppressed
becomes as cruel as their oppressors. It
is bad enough that we suffer at the hands of wicked people; we must not
compound the harm by making the wicked our teachers.
13) They sent the
maid, lit a lamp, and opened the bedroom door; she went in and found them
sleeping together.14) The maid
came out and told them that Tobiah was alive, and that nothing was wrong.
COMMENTARY: And so
the happy twist, the eucatastrophe!
Reassurance to the listener that God can indeed end suffering.
15) Then they praised the God of
heaven in these words:
“Blessed are you, God, with every pure blessing!
Let all your chosen ones bless you forever!
always a good idea to say “Thank you” after receiving something nice, whether
you’re talking to God or your next door neighbor.
16) Blessed are you, for you have
made me happy;
what I feared did not happen.
Rather you have dealt with us
according to your abundant mercy.
so easy to fear the future when we’ve suffered much in the past! But the future can hide good things as well
as bad, in whatever mysteries await us.
We never know what blessings might come our way, just when we’ve
resigned ourselves to nothing but misfortune.
17) Blessed are you, for you have
toward two only children.
Grant them, Master, mercy and protection,
and bring their lives to fulfillment
with happiness and mercy.”
COMMENTARY: These days we think of an only child as
spoiled, doted upon. People in those
days saw them as unfortunate, without crucial allies in a challenging world.
Raguel told his servants to fill in the grave before dawn.
COMMENTARY: If I
was one of the servants, at this point, roused out of bed to dig a grave, then
told to spend the rest of the night filling it up again, I don’t know whether
I’d rejoice for the family or grumble loudly and persistently! Maybe both.
19) He asked his
wife to bake many loaves of bread; he himself went out to the herd and brought
two steers and four rams, which he ordered to be slaughtered. So they began to
prepare the feast. 20) He summoned
Tobiah and said to him, “For fourteen days you shall not stir from here,
but shall remain here eating and drinking with me; you shall bring joy to my
daughter’s afflicted spirit.
insists upon double the then-usual seven-day festivities, because of the great
joy of finally having a surviving groom.
Boy, those old-timers sure knew how to celebrate!
21) Now take half of what I own here; go back in good health
to your father. The other half will be yours when I and my wife die. Take
courage, son! I am your father, and Edna is your mother; we belong to you and
to your sister both now and forever. So take courage, son!”
So the poor boy with the blind father not only gets a bride on top of
regaining access to his father’s money, but also, topping that, too, he gets a
spectacular dowry and an inheritance!
And even better, the love and support of two very kind elders. Definitely a turn for the better in the
fortunes of Tobit’s family.