Thursday of Week 9 of Ordinary Time – First Reading

Commentary on Tobit 6:10-11; 7:1, 9-14; 8:4-9

Our story of Tobit now omits a number of incidents in the story and moves to Tobiah, Tobit’s son. The prayers of both Tobit and Sarah are going to be answered in an unexpected way.

Having asked God to let him die, Tobit realised he needed to provide for his son, Tobiah. He remembered a large sum of money, ten talents of silver, he had formerly deposited in far-off Media and sent Tobiah, after giving him some fatherly instruction, to pick up the money. Tobiah’s problem was that he did not know the person who had the money, nor Tobiah’s companion and guide (the angel Raphael, whom Tobiah “… did not know was an angel of God”).

It was while they were on the way that, as Tobiah was washing his feet in the Tigris river, a large fish jumped out of the water and tried to bite Tobiah’s foot. At Raphael’s instruction, Tobiah caught the fish and removed its gall, heart and liver. The angel told him to keep these organs for the future, as medicine. He kept the rest of the fish for eating.

It is at this point that today’s reading begins. As they enter Media on the way to Ecbatana, the angel says that they will be staying with Raguel, who is the father of Sarah and a kinsman of Tobit. On reaching the house, they find Raguel sitting by the door of his courtyard. The guests are received warmly and a sheep from the flock is killed in their honour. They bathe and then sit down to eat.

On the one hand Tobiah is rather apprehensive about meeting a woman with such a reputation but, as soon as he sees her, he asks Raphael, on his behalf, to ask for her hand in marriage.

When Raguel overhears Tobiah asking the angel (whom he calls Azariah) to get Raguel to give his daughter Sarah to him, Raguel replies that no one else has the right to take his daughter – “no one but you, my brother”. When a bride lost her husband before giving birth, there was an obligation for the nearest surviving relative of the deceased husband to take his place (as we saw in yesterday’s Gospel).

Raguel then warns Tobiah of what had previously happened. That seven of Raguel’s kinsmen who had tried to marry Sarah had all died as soon as they entered their bride’s room to perform the marriage act. However, in the meantime, he invited Tobiah to enjoy his meal. In view of what had happened on the previous occasions, it could well be his last! The prayer “The Lord will grant you his grace and peace” could be understood in more than one way.

But Tobiah will not sit down to eat until Raguel makes a final decision about giving his daughter in marriage. It was not polite to act in such a way, but it reveals Tobiah’s anxiety to have Sarah as his wife.

Raguel then agrees to give his daughter to Tobiah:

From now on you are her brother and she is your sister… The Lord of Heaven favour you tonight, my son, and grant you his grace and peace.

Under the circumstances, it was a prayer that Tobiah needed.

Raguel then calls for his daughter and formally hands her over to Tobiah as his wife in accordance with the laws and customs of Moses. The alliance was then confirmed with a formal, written document following all the required procedures.

After they had all eaten, the parents withdrew and left the young couple alone. They are deeply aware that this is a critical moment for both of them. They agree, first of all, to pray to the Lord for his grace and protection.

What is not mentioned here is that Tobiah had been assured that if, while making love to his wife, he burnt the heart and liver of the fish he had caught, the smoke would drive away the evil power which had destroyed the former husbands. As soon as they were alone in the bridal chamber Tobiah did this and the demon was exorcised.

Tobiah then makes a prayer. He begins with words of praise for God as the creator of all things. It was God who had created Adam and also his wife Eve “to be his help and support”. And from them the whole human race had come into being.

He reminds God too that the Creator had said that it was not good for the man to be alone, and that he needed a helpmate like himself. And it is in this spirit, and not because of any lustful desire, that Tobiah wishes to take Sarah as his helpmate.

He concludes his prayer by begging God to have compassion on both of them and to grant them to live to an old age together – a very significant prayer in view of what had happened to Sarah’s previous partners.

They both finish the prayer with a heartfelt ‘Amen’ – “May it be so.”

The text of this very beautiful prayer would be very suitable for any young newly married couple today. And, indeed, how many lovers think of asking God’s blessing before they enter on their lovemaking? Where else is the God who is Love more likely to be found than where love is most intensely expressed?

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