1) When the wedding celebration came to an end, Tobit called
his son Tobiah and said to him, “Son, see to it that you pay his wages to the
man who made the journey with you and give him a bonus too.”
2) Tobiah said: “Father, how much shall I pay him? It would
not hurt to give him half the wealth he brought back with me. 3) He
led me back safe and sound, healed my wife, brought the money back with me, and
healed you. How much should I pay him?”
4)Tobit answered, “It is only fair, son, that he should
receive half of all that he brought back.”
Tobiah called Raphael and said, “Take as your wages half of all that you have
brought back, and farewell!”
COMMENTARY: I find
something very touching and human about Tobiah’s rhetorical “How much should we
pay him?” In any case, father and son
agree to pay Raphael a LOT more than the agreed-upon wage. How refreshing to see businessmen think upon
what is fair rather than the minimum they can get away with legally! They weren’t unreasonable; they took into
account that they could afford to do this.
But they also saw the value of a life of gratitude above a life of
6) Raphael called the two of them aside privately and said to
them: “Bless God and give him thanks before all the living for the good things
he has done for you, by blessing and extolling his name in song. Proclaim
before all with due honor the deeds of God, and do not be slack in thanking
COMMENTARY: An interesting phrase, “give thanks before
all the living”. Christians will recall
that when the Sadducees challenged Jesus on whether or not there was an
afterlife, Jesus referred to the common practice of referring to their deity as
“The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob” and then said that their God was the God
of the Living, not of the dead. Rafael
establishes God’s kingdom as being the realm of living things, and not remote.
Catholics take this also as
scriptural support for the intercession of saints. We believe that those who die in Christ live
in Christ and pray for us. As a logical
result, we believe that their prayers have great power, because having God right
before them always makes their faith absolute, and even faith the size of a
mustard-seed can move mountains. We do
not fear to come to God directly with our prayers, but we also invite the
saints in Heaven to pray with us, because of the complete support that saints
receive in having greater faith than we in this world can imagine.
Also interesting that Rafael
recommended giving this thanks in song.
How afraid we have become to sing!
We have grown accustomed to hearing the very best singers in the world
perform in recordings, and so the best sounds “normal” to us and normal sounds
like garbage; we have grown ashamed of our own voices! Yet the sparrow does not have to sing like a
lark to sound sweet.
the invention of the phonograph people used to sing all the time. They sang while they worked, they sang at
parties, they sang for special events, they sang walking down the street, and
of course they sang to worship, and not just in church where they could hide
their voices among a hundred others.
as late as the fifties and early sixties this had not altogether vanished; I
remember singing as I walked home from school, and not feeling particularly
unusual for it. I remember Grandma
singing as she washed the dishes. Part
of our history lessons in class involved singing the folksongs of the times we
over time, comparing ourselves constantly to the greatest singers silenced us. Even in church, now, we often just move our
lips and hope the choir hides the fact that we don’t sing at all.
that mean that I find fault with great musicians developing their talent to the
max? Not at all! They deserve all the acclaim they get for the
hard work they put into developing their gifts and sharing them with us. I find fault with comparison. It has poisoned our society, to think, “I am
no good because somebody is better.”
will always be better and worse than you, unless you are the single person at
the very pinnacle, in which case you sacrificed so much to get there that you
have much else that you’re not good at.
Nobody can develop every single talent and simultaneously be best at
everything. Did Jesus show the world His
great mastery of sculpture? He surely
had the talent; He was one with the Father in sculpting the mountains
themselves! Or he could have become the
world’s greatest athlete, or politician, or father and husband. But while human He had to choose which of His
talents to develop, and He chose teaching and healing, because that’s what fit
the mission given to Him by the Father.
just maybe, Jesus couldn’t sing spectacularly, not from any flaw, but simply
because He hadn’t time to practice or to study under great musical
masters. Maybe He sang about as well as
you or me. Do you think that this would
stop Him from raising up His voice in praise of the Father? Do you think that it would stop Him from the
simple joy of singing on the road?
no more cares that the voice you lift up to sing to Him is rough than a mother
cares that her child doesn’t sing to her with the voice of a diva. The song needn’t be perfect to bring joy to
our Heavenly Parent.
7) A king’s secret should be kept secret, but one must declare
the works of God and give thanks with due honor. Do good, and evil will not
COMMENTARY: A mortal king could get in trouble if it came
out that he gave bounty to one courtier, because other courtiers might grumble
about being less favored and the King, being finite, cannot share abundance
with them all. And then all kinds of
political drama erupts against the chosen recipient. Tobit, as a courtier, understood this. God, on the other hand, has infinite
resources. To declare one’s own blessing
should not have the competitive context of human affairs (I’m favored and you’re
not”) but should extend as an invitation
to those with less to feel free to ask for more. This can include (especially) asking for help
in becoming more capable of earning, making, or growing, or help in the removal
of unjust barriers to an honest living.
And often, in such prayers, for self or others, one can come, by grace
to realize that the one praying herself can become an agent of God in bringing
the improvement about.
Jewish scholars of the Old Testament
always examine while two seemingly disparate sentences go together in the same
verse. So why isn’t “Do good, and evil
will not overtake you” in a separate verse of its own? Because praise of God, to Rafael, is the
gateway for good. A praiseful heart
finds all other good deeds easier to do.
“Evil will not overtake you”
doesn’t mean a cushy life—as the tale of Tobit plainly shows. Rather than an absence of evil, it means that
evil will not have the victory.
8) Prayer with fasting is good. Almsgiving with righteousness
is better than wealth with wickedness. It is better to give alms than to store
up gold, 9) for almsgiving saves
from death, and purges all sin. Those who give alms will enjoy a full life,
10) but those who commit sin and do evil are their own
grammar of this translation forces me to lump all of these verses together, but
they might have each stood separately originally. So I’m going to have to similarly lump many
comments together in response.
is it about prayer with fasting? For one
thing, fasting while praying creates a very specific kind of altered
state. One becomes dizzy and
disconnected from the everyday as in other altered states, but low blood sugar
also brings about an instinctive yearning response, and combining this with
prayer sublimates the physical hunger into a hunger for God, which propels one
closer to God with great desire. The
spirit becomes hungry, and laps up grace like food.
popularity of prayer and fasting, though, cost us Catholics too many saints who
happily starved to death in religious ecstasy.
(You can read a whole litany of saints who “died of their penances” in a
book titled “Holy Anorexia” by Rudolph M. Bell.) Over time we shifted the emphasis from
fasting to celibacy as a hunger to sublimate into yearning for God. It is less ecstatic, less mind-altering, but easier
to sustain over time, and nobody ever died of not getting nookie.
the record, psychologists, theologians, and historians debate whether the
self-starvation of saints was anorexia nervosa or should have its own distinct
name of anorexia mirabilis, because the motivation of a nun seeking closeness
to God seems quite different from modern motives for denying oneself food. But most people agree that fasting in
moderation, like dieting in moderation, can do more good than harm so long as
one does not become addicted to the practice.)
writer combines Rafael’s praise of prayer and fasting with “almsgiving with
righteousness” and opposes both to “wealth with wickedness.” We desire wealth primarily for material
security, and almsgiving can make us uneasy about losing that security. Prayerful fasting serves another function by
defying that insecurity, facing the fear of going hungry by doing so voluntarily
as a propellant for prayer.
almsgiving be unrighteous? Yes. You could buy people’s dignity with it. You could make people dependent upon you to
increase your power or your pride. You could
ruin a rival’s livelihood by giving their product away for free. Almsgiving only counts as a virtue if you do
it for righteous reasons: compassion for others and gratitude to God.
the same vein wealth itself is not inherently a fault (luckily for Tobit and
Tobiah, who just got rich.) Wealth with
wickedness is the problem. This could
mean using wicked means to get rich, or using one’s wealth wickedly. I see no harm in using honestly gained
wealth, for instance, to buy expensive handicrafts and art—that financially
enables the artist to spend her life creating beauty. But when you use that money to buy
politicians, so that they can make unjust laws so that you can take still more
wealth away from people who worked hard for it, as we see today spiraling out
of control, that is wickedness both in the spending and the acquisition of wealth.
is better to give alms than to store up gold,” Rafael says, and then explains
that alms save from death and purges sins.
(Death of soul, certainly.) We
Catholics, in our history, at one time took this too literally, which led to
the Church selling indulgences. But in
the context of the Exile, Jews like Tobit sought some way to deal with not
having access to the Temple and the ability to make the sin offerings
prescribed by Moses, and they hit upon the beautiful solution of making
offerings to those most in need. In
Christian belief, Jesus later confirmed that “Whatsoever you do to the least of
these, that you do unto Me.”
believe that Jesus alone purges sins.
Yet Jesus Himself confirms that He accepts alms to the poor as an
offering to Himself. Thus almsgiving
becomes, for the Christian, an affirmation of faith in Jesus. It isn’t about a debate as to whether faith
or works save us, it’s about our works confirming our faith.
who give alms will enjoy a full life,” but what does that mean? We have all seen good, generous people die
young sometimes. It isn’t about fullness
of years but fullness of life. Life has more richness, more meaning when one
gives to others. Study after study has
shown that generosity makes people happier than selfishness. In fact, in one study, not only did an act of
generosity boost the immune system of the giver, but receiving generosity also
boosted it, and so did merely witnessing an act of generosity. Whether you believe God had a hand in our
evolution or not, we human beings plainly are pack animals designed to take
care of each other.
for those who do evil being their own worst enemies, I have seen that many
times. Harming others harms the self in
too many ways to count, ironically, since the most common motive for harming
others is selfishness.
ago a dog chased one of our neighbor’s free range chickens into a fenced
portion of our yard where I’d left the gate open. After the dog left, the hen could plainly see
her own yard through the chain-link fence, and kept trying to throw herself
through the fence, growing more and more frantic, instead of retracing her
steps. Had she gone in the opposite
direction from the one that she thought led to her happiness, she would have
found her way to everything she desired.
How often we human beings get just as confused as that poor chicken,
hurling ourselves into what looks like the most obvious route to happiness,
only to get bruised and frustrated until our Master finally comes and rescues
11) “I shall now
tell you the whole truth and conceal nothing at all from you. I have already
said to you, ‘A king’s secret should be kept secret, but one must declare the
works of God with due honor.’
COMMENTARY: Here I worried, earlier, reading about Rafael’s
apparent lie, passing himself off as human kin to Tobit, as to whether the
angel committed a sin. But now he’s
about to come clean. Apparently one
needn’t tell the truth immediately,
but sooner or later one should tell it.
12) Now when you, Tobit, and Sarah prayed, it was I who
presented the record of your prayer before the Glory of the Lord; and likewise
whenever you used to bury the dead.
reflects the Jewish belief that angels bring offerings of people’s prayers and good
deeds to the Lord. Yaquis also believe
that angels bring our sewa, the
flowering of our soul, in the form of prayers and good deeds, to present before
the Lord. We love flower-symbolism,
being a desert people for whom flowers hold great preciousness, and envision
our offerings to God gathered up in bouquets.
yourself in the desert, where all you can see for miles around is sand and rock
and hostile, prickly things. Now imagine
rain falling upon the desert. Seeds hidden
in the sand sprout and flower, and the prickly plants bloom, and suddenly this
florescence covers the harsh environment with color, perfume, softness,
delicacy, the light shining through the translucent petals, all of this
richness and the promise of fruit on its way!
It becomes a completely different world.
Just so does grace fall like rain upon a sere soul, awakening seeds that
we didn’t even know were buried in us, unknotting the hard little buds of our
potential goodness and unleashing beauty that we never suspected we were
teach that every drop of Christ’s blood became a flower. This is not as far-fetched as it might sound
at first blush. Blood contains nitrogen,
a rich fertilizer that roots seek out.
The blood that dried on the hard pavement became a nutrient-rich dust
that blew out to where the flowers could consume this communion, and each of
those flowers in turn lived and died and became dust blown further and further,
carrying blessings with each particle.
believe that communion wine really is the Blood of Christ. We also believe that one drop of this in a
bottle of unconsecrated wine turns the entire bottle into communion wine. So doesn’t one drop of the blood of the Lord
Jesus Christ, fallen upon the ground, make the entire Earth sanctified? That last sentence has not been a teaching of
the Catholic Church, but neither do I know of any argument against it. What if Jesus saying, “This is my body” of
grain, and “This is my blood” of wine, has still more meaning than we ever
dared to explore?
can just hear some people saying, “Oh now wait, now you’re going into Pagan
territory.” But I will go into any
territory where my Lord Jesus Christ leads me.
Did not the Apostles spread out into Pagan territory bearing the Good
have told my friends before that, at the age of twelve, I experimented with
atheism. I thought it only honest to
give it a fair hearing and to try it out.
But I only lasted a week; God kept calling attention to Himself the more
I tried to pretend that He didn’t exist.
What I have not told friends before is that the way He kept catching my
attention was through nature, through His Creation. I could not help but perceive Him there, try
though I might to tell myself that I imagined Him. I kept seeing Him everywhere I looked! As far as I’m concerned, His blood has
spilled upon this Earth, and she is in communion with Him, and there is no
that was a digression. But I believe
that reading scripture can and should inspire our thoughts to wander in ways
that they lay out for us.)
13) When you did not hesitate to get up and leave your dinner
in order to go and bury that dead man, 14)
I was sent to put you to the test. At the same time, however, God sent
me to heal you and your daughter-in-law Sarah.
COMMENTARY: Modern Americans have this expectation that
God ought to motivate us to do good by obvious and direct rewards. When instead He strikes a man blind we can’t
help but wonder what the heck is up with that!
But putting us to the test in fact is an honor—in doing so God declares
His faith in us!
Why would He do this,
though? He reads our hearts; He doesn’t
need to investigate any further than that.
But we don’t know ourselves as well as He does. He performs the test for us, so that we can
learn our own strength, and that can become a great gift to us. And He also sets a limit to our travails, and
And maybe this didn’t test Tobit’s
understanding of himself alone. It might
have also tested his wife, and so he gained the gift of appreciating just how
capable she was, how she had his back, how precious a marriage he enjoyed.
am Raphael, one of the seven angels who stand and serve before the Glory of the
COMMENTARY: And so
the truth comes out! Catholics call the
angels “Who stand and serve before the Glory of the Lord” archangels—the ones
in charge of countless hosts of angels, each with their specialities. Among those archangels mentioned in the Bible,
Raphael’s specialty is healing, Gabriel’s is messages from God, and Michael’s
is defense against evil
You can find the rest in the Book of Enoch,
which is not even in the Catholic Deuterocanonical books but which the Coptic
Christians (Ethiopian Orthodox, Eritrean Orthodox, and Tewahedo Church)
consider legitimate, and it can also be found in some Eastern Orthodox Bibles
though not officially canon. The Book of
Enoch is a whole ‘nother kind of controversial.
Jesus Himself quoted from it, and yet few want to trust it. The Jewish community eventually rejected it
because it described fallen angels, and this seemed blasphemous to many of them,
to suggest that angels could sin. (Many
Jews believe that we ourselves create demons out of our sins. Sigmund Freud might have claimed to be an
atheist, but he never wrote the word “unconscious” in noun-form without putting
a + sign before and after it—a traditional measure for making it safe to write
down a demon’s name.) The Christian
community then excluded the book—even though agreeing with the controversial
point—because of this Judaic precedent. The
Book of Enoch actually includes five full books, each with intriguing titles:
1. “The Book of the Watchers” (Buffy fans,
please contain yourselves. The watchers
here are angels.)
2. “The Book of the Parables of Enoch” (Also
called “The Book of the Similitudes of Enoch”)
3. “The Astronomical Book” (Also called “The Book
of the Heavenly Luminaries” or “Book of Luminaries)
4. “The Book of Dream Visions” (Also called “The
Book of Dreams”) and
5. “The Epistle of Enoch”.
Each of the archangels had a different day of the week:
Wednesday: Uriel (sometimes
considered the angel of death or who escorts the dead)
Thursday: Raguel (angel of
justice and harmony)
Friday: Originally Remiel, angel of hope and visions,
but the book of Enoch says that he fell and was replaced by Phanuel, angel of
the hope of the penitent.
Saturday: Sariel, who witnesses
sins as Raphael witnesses good deeds.
shaken, the two of them fell prostrate in fear.
COMMENTARY: We never know when we might walk in the
company of angels. I try to keep this in
mind, dealing with strangers; on the one hand, they might have just escaped
prison, on the other hand they might be angels in disguise. So I watch my back and take all due
precautions, but I also treat them with dignity, and do what I can for them.
Raphael said to them: “Do not fear; peace be with you! Bless God now and
COMMENTARY: So easily do we fear those more powerful than
us! But Raphael here says that angels
mean no harm to those who bless God.
for me, when I was with you, I was not acting out of any favor on my part, but
by God’s will. So bless God every day; give praise with song.
COMMENTARY: There is no need to pay Raphael with half the
wealth, since he did not serve them on his own count, but on God’s orders. Instead of owing anything to him, they owe it
to God, who fortunately takes payment in songs rather than coin.
19) Even though you saw me eat and drink,
I did not eat or drink anything; what you were seeing was a vision.
COMMENTARY: Angels have no needs. The Gnostics claimed that Jesus also only
seemed to eat and drink, being a vision rather than actually incarnating, but
against that the mainstream Christians held that He specifically said that He
was hungry, thirsty, or weary at various times to make it clear that He
actually did have a body with needs, since he wasn’t a liar. This matters because if you’re one of those
who puts your faith in a sacrifice happening on a cross, it needs to be a
20) So now bless the Lord on earth and
give thanks to God. Look, I am ascending to the one who sent me. Write down all
that has happened to you.” And he ascended.
COMMENTARY: And so we come to the explanation for how the
book came to be. But don’t unbuckle your
seatbelt just yet—this ride goes on for another two chapters before we move on
to the Book of Judith.
21) They stood up but were no longer able
to see him.
COMMENTARY: Yes, the translation says “ascended” in the
verse before, but in actuality Raphael didn’t go up, he simply vanished. Contrary to the beliefs of a more primitive
time, Heaven is not in the sky. As Jesus
put it, “The Kingdom of Heaven is upon you!”
22) They kept blessing God and singing his
praises, and they continued to give thanks for these marvelous works that God
had done, because an angel of God appeared to them.
all of the blessings that we receive, if we hadn’t let our inferiority
complexes silence us, we’d be busting out in song all the time. Operas, operettas, and musicals seem
laughably unrealistic to us now, but people really did used to sing their
feelings a lot more often than they do today, if not quite that much.