Chapter Twelve


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.”

5) So 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 greed.



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 him.


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.

Before 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.

Even 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 studied.

Yet, 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.

Does 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.”

Somebody 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.

Maybe, 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?

God 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 overtake you.


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 worst enemies.


COMMENTARY:  The 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.

                What 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.

                The 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.

                (For 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.)

                The 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.

                Could 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.

                In 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.

                “It 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.”

                Christians 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.

                “Those 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.

                As 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.

                Months 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 us!



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.


COMMENTARY:  This 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.

                Picture 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 capable of.

                Yaquis 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.

                Catholics 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?

                I 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 News?

                I 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 turning back.

                (Okay, 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 heals us.

                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.



15) I am Raphael, one of the seven angels who stand and serve before the Glory of the Lord.”


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:

Sunday: Gabriel.

Monday: Michael

Tuesday: Raphael

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.



16) Greatly 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.



 17) But Raphael said to them: “Do not fear; peace be with you! Bless God now and forever.


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.



 18) As 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 genuine sacrifice.



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.


COMMENTARY:  With 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.

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