Archive for the ‘Tobit’ Category

Judgment and Mercy, Part XIV   1 comment

Above:  Caduceus

Image in the Public Domain


Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning:

Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them,

that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of life,

which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ,  who lives and reigns

with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

The Book of Common Prayer (1979), page 236


Numbers 21:4-9 or Malachi 3:19-24/4:1-6

Psalm 74:1-2, 10-17

Hebrews 13:1-16, 20-21

Mark 12:35-44


The promise of divine punishment for evil and of divine deliverance of the oppressed and righteous on the great Day of the LORD is one example of judgment and mercy being like sides of a coin.  The deliverance of the oppressed is very bad news for the oppressors, who are, in a way, victims of themselves.

If we behave as we should–revere God, take care of each other, et cetera–we will not have to fear punishment from God for not doing so.  We may incur punishment from human authorities, as in Tobit 1, but God did not promise a peaceful life in exchange for righteousness.

Two stories require more attention.

The cure in Numbers, cited also in John 3:14-15, in the context of the crucifixion of Jesus, our Lord and Savior’s glorification, according to the Fourth Gospel, is a textbook case of sympathetic magic.  It is related to Egyptian imagery of kingship, divinity, and protection from cobra saliva.  A commonplace visual echo is the caduceus, the medical symbol.

Pay attention to what precedes and follows Mark 12:41-44.  Our Lord and Savior’s condemnation of those who, among other things,

eat up the property of widows,

precedes the account of the widow giving all she had to the Temple.  Immediately in Chapter 13, we read a prediction of the destruction of the Temple.  I conclude that Jesus found the widow’s faith laudable yet grieved her choice.

May our lives bring glory to God and lead others to faith and discipleship.  May we, in our zeal, not go off the deep end and embarrass God and/or accidentally drive people away from God or get in the way of evangelism.  And may we never mistake an internal monologue for a dialogue with God.








Adapted from this post:


Did I Say Anything?   Leave a comment

You will not exact vengeance on, or bear any sort of grudge against, the members of your race, but will love you neighbour as yourself.  I am Yahweh.

–Leviticus 19:18, The New Jerusalem Bible (1985)


Do to no one what you would not want done to you.

–Tobit 4:15, The New Jerusalem Bible (1985)


Judge your fellow-guest’s needs by your own,

be thoughtful in every way.

–Sirach/Ecclesiasticus 31:15, The New Jerusalem Bible (1985)


So always treat others as you would like them to treat you; that is the Law and the Prophets.

–Matthew 7:12, The New Jerusalem Bible (1985)


Treat others as you would like people to treat you.

–Luke 6:31, The New Jerusalem Bible (1985)


After all, brothers, you were called to be free; do not abuse your freedom as an opening for self-indulgence, but be servants to one another in love, since the whole of the Law is summarised in the one commandment: You must love your neighbour as yourself.  If you go on snapping at one another and tearing one another to pieces, you will be eaten up by one another.

–Galatians 5:13-15, The New Jerusalem Bible (1985)


Once upon a time I cared deeply about having and winning arguments, whether they were by electronic or personal means.  I sought to have the last word and to convince the other person or people of the superiority of my logic, intellect, and morality.  I was, of course, obnoxious, arrogant, and presumptuous, among other adjectives.

Now I seldom argue with anyone.  Silence implies not consent but the fact that I consider an argument to be unnecessary and possibly unwise, or at least not productive.  Really, will two or more people shouting at each other change the minds of anyone participating in the shouting match?  This scenario is far removed from an intellectual discourse.  Furthermore, I do not enjoy having to endure someone shouting at me and possibly insulting my intelligence and/or morality, so I choose to obey the Golden Rule by not doing unto the other person as he or she is doing unto me.

Usually such an unpleasant event starts without me saying anything.  On the rare occasion that I something I say triggers the shouted monologue, I have not sought to offend anyone.  Only once (as far as I recall) has my question,

Did I say anything?,

halted the monologue.  Anyhow, I, heeding the advice in Galatians 5, refuse to shout in return most of the time.  I am a flawed human being, after all, so my track record is imperfect.  I do, however, know what I ought to do and seek to act accordingly.  My purpose is not to be right; it is to be correct.  My purpose is not to be right; it is to avoid being arrogant, presumptuous, and obnoxious, among other adjectives.

That is a worthy goal, one for which I depend on grace for any degree of success.  The ability to control one’s temper–to refrain from striking out physically and/or verbally, and to avoid doing anything else one will have cause to regret later–is a learned skill.  I recognize that I have an obligation to exercise my responsibility with regard to how I act in these situations.  I choose not to pour gasoline on a proverbial fire.  Nevertheless, I know that not responding in kind frequently angers the other person and makes the situation worse in the short term.  If I were to argue in return, however, that course of action would have the same result in the short term and make matters worse in the medium term, at least.  And, if I were to pretend to agree with a proposition I oppose, I would be a liar.  C’est la vie.  Sometimes the fire must burn out on its own.

The tongue, James 3:6 reminds us, is a flame.  One can extend that teaching to pens, pencils, Twitter posts, Facebook memes, remarks in the comments sections of websites, et cetera.  Much of the time remaining silent, not sharing a meme, or not posting a comment is the better course of action.  Not giving into one’s anger and acting badly is preferable to ignoring the Golden Rule.









Divine Commandments, the Image of God, and Spiritual Struggles   1 comment

Tobias Saying Goodbye to His Father

Above:  Tobias Saying Good-Bye to His Father, by William-Adolphe Bouguereau

Image in the Public Domain

Tobit had suffered for acting faithfully and compassionately.  His son took great risks to help him in the Book of Tobit.


The Collect:

Almighty and ever-living God, you revealed the incarnation of your Son by the brilliant shining of a star.

Shine the light of your justice always in our hearts and over all lands,

and accept our lives as the treasure we offer in your praise and for your service,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns

with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 21


The Assigned Readings:

Proverbs 1:20-33 (January 3)

Proverbs 3:1-12 (January 4)

Psalm 110 (Both Days)

James 4:1-10 (January 3)

James 4:11-17 (January 4)


The king at your right hand, O Lord,

shall smite down kings in the day of his wrath.

In all his majesty, he shall judge the nations,

smiting heads over all the wide earth.

–Psalm 110:5-6, Common Worship (2000)


The assigned readings for these two days include generous amounts of divine judgment and mercy.  Obey God’s instructions, they say, and life will be better in the short, medium, and long terms than if one disregards them.  Some of the content in Proverbs leans in the direction of Prosperity Theology, unfortunately.  Nevertheless, as other passages of scripture indicate, those who suffer for the sake of righteousness do so in the company of God.

James 4, along with the rest of that epistle, focuses on human actions and their spiritual importance.  In the Letter of James faith is intellectual, hence the epistle’s theology of justification by works.  This does not contradict the Pauline theology of justification by faith, for faith, in Pauline theology, is inherently active.  These two parts of the New Testament depart from different places and arrive at the same destination.  Recognizing the image of God in others then treating them accordingly is a loving thing to do.  It is a faithful thing to do.  It is also a frequently dangerous thing to do.

This is a devotion for two days leading up to the Feast of the Epiphany (January 6), the commemoration of the Magi, who put their lives on hold for years and took many risks.  The Epiphany is also a feast about the Gospel of Jesus going out to the Gentiles, of which I am one.  Part of the significance of the Feast of the Epiphany in my life is the reality that people (especially those different from me) are more than they appear; they are bearers of the divine image.  As such, they have inherent dignity and potential.  Sometimes I recognize this reality easily in others, but I have a certain difficulty sometimes in recognizing it in those who have wronged me.  That is a spiritual issue which James 4:11-12 tells me to address.  Grace is available for that, fortunately.

Each of us has spiritual failings to address.  May you, O reader, deal with yours successfully, by grace.  May you obey God’s commandments and live compassionately, regardless of the costs.







Adapted from this post:


In Praise of True Piety   1 comment

Above:  A Mite from the Reign of Alexander Jannaeus, Hasmonean Priest-King of Judea, 103-76 B.C.E.


Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), of The Episcopal Church, contains an adapted two-years weekday lectionary for the Epiphany and Ordinary Time seasons from the Anglican Church of Canada.  I invite you to follow it with me.


Tobit 12:1, 5-15, 20 (Revised English Bible):

After the wedding celebrations were over, Tobit sent for Tobias.

My son,

he said,

when you pay for the man who went with you, see that you give him something extra, over and above his wages.

So Tobias called him and said,

Half of all that you have brought with you is to be yours for your wages; take it, and may you fare well.

Then Raphael called them both aside and said to them:

“Praise God, and in the presence of all living creatures thank you for the good he has done you, so that they may sing hymns of praise to his name.  Proclaim to all the world what God has done; pay him honour and give him willing thanks.  A king’s secret ought to be kept, but the works of God should be publicly acknowledged.  Acknowledge them, therefore, and pay him honour.  Do good, and no evil will befall you.  Better prayer with sincerity, and almsgiving with righteousness, than wealth with wickedness.  Better give alms than hoard up gold.  Almsgiving preserves from death and wipes out every sin.  Givers of alms will enjoy long life; but sinners and wrongdoers are their own worst enemies.

I will tell you the whole truth, hiding nothing from you. I have already made it clear to you that while a king’s secret ought to be kept, the works of God should be glorified in public.  Now Tobit, when you and Sarah prayed, it was I who brought your prayers to be remembered in the glorious presence of the Lord.  So too when you buried the dead:  that day when without hesitation you got up from your meal to bury dead man, I was sent to test you.  At the same time God sent me cure both you and Sarah your daughter-in-law.  I am Raphael, one of the seven angels who stand in attendance of the Lord and enter his glorious presence….And now praise the Lord, give thanks to God here on earth; I am about to ascend to him who sent me.  Write down everything that has happened to you.

Psalm 65:1-5 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1 You are to be praised, O God, in Zion;

to you shall vows be performed in Jerusalem.

2 To you that hear prayer shall all flesh come,

because of their transgressions.

3 Our sins are stronger than we are,

but you will blot them out.

4 Happy are they whom you choose

and draw to your courts to dwell there!

they will be satisfied by the beauty of your house,

by the holiness of your temple.

Mark 12:38-44 (Revised English Bible):

There was a large crowd listening eagerly.  As he taught them, he said,

Beware of the scribes, who love to walk up and down in long robes and be greeted respectfully in the street, and to have the chief seats  in synagogues and places of honour at feasts.  Those who eat up the property of widows, while for appearance’s sake they say long prayers, will receive a sentence all the more severe.

As he was sitting opposite the temple treasury, he watched the people dropping their money into the chest.  Many rich people were putting in large amounts.  Presently there came a poor widow who dropped in two tiny coins, together worth a penny.  He called his disciples to him and said,

Truly I tell you:  this poor widow has given more than all those giving to the treasury; for the others who have given had more than enough, but she, with less than enough, has given all that she had to live on.


The Collect:

O God, your never-failing providence sets in order all things both in heaven and earth:  Put away from us, we entreat you, all hurtful things, and give us those things which are profitable for us; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.


The Bible does contradict itself.  For example, Tobit, Psalms, and Proverbs link piety and good fortune to each other, but Ecclesiastes is more realistic and Jesus and Paul recognize that suffering flows from righteousness much of the time.  Being a Christian, I side with Jesus.  This fact does not prevent me from enjoying the Book of Tobit, however, even if I reject the formulation that almsgiving atones for all sins.

I choose to focus on the positive instead.  The entire extended family of Tobit is now healed, thanks to divine actions.  And Raphael reveals his actual identity and returns to Heaven.  Before he departs, however, he utters timeless wisdom:

A king’s secret ought to be kept,

but the works of God should be publicly acknowledged.

Jesus, in Mark’s Gospel, tops off a series of conversations (mostly confrontations) by condemning scribes who display false piety in public for the sake of status.  They have honor because social rules say they do.  This honor is worthless in the eyes of God, Jesus says.  These honor seekers are really predators who “eat up the property of widows.”  This is an apt description of temple tithes imposed upon the poor.  Then Jesus observes wealthy people giving large amounts of money they would never miss and a widow depositing two mites, a much smaller sum.  Her offering impresses him the most.  She trusts God, and the others do not.

These offerings supported the Temple system, which of the Jesus of Mark opposed.  This point should be plain by now to anyone who has been reading this Gospel for twelve chapters.  The widow gave money because her society expected it of her and because this was the piety she had learned.  Her sincerity and trust impressed Jesus.  I read this story and come away with a second thought:  Why should anyone expect such a widow to support the corrupt Temple system?  She should have used the two mites for necessities.  God would not have held that decision against her, I think.

Besides, organized religion cannot contain all of true piety.  The widow already practiced this piety, for she trusted God to provide for her needs.  And she acknowledged it in public.  That impressed Jesus.

It is well and good to seek to understand the meaning of a Bible story first within the contexts of history, culture, and texts.  Indeed, we need to begin there.  Then we need to move to the next level, which is contemporary application.  So I leave you, O reader, with open-ended questions:

  • How much do you trust God?
  • Are you helping to support a modern counterpart to the corrupt Temple system of Jesus’ time?

In the name of God:  Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.   Amen.







Adapted from this post:


Posted January 26, 2012 by neatnik2009 in Mark 12, Psalm 65, Tobit

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Yahweh is Good   1 comment

Above:  The Healing of Tobit, by Bernardo Strozzi (1581-1644)


Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), of The Episcopal Church, contains an adapted two-years weekday lectionary for the Epiphany and Ordinary Time seasons from the Anglican Church of Canada.  I invite you to follow it with me.


Tobit 11:5-18 (Revised English Bible):

Anna sat watching the road by which her son would return.  She caught sight of him coming and exclaimed to his father,

Here he comes–your son and the man who went with him!

Before Tobias reached his father’s house Raphael said,

I know for certain that his eyes will be opened.  Spread the fish-gall on them; this remedy will make the white patches shrink and peel off.  Your father will get his sight back and see the light of day.

Anna ran forward, flung her arms round her son, and said to him:

Now that I have seen you again, my child, I am ready to die.

And she wept.

As Tobit rose to his feet and came stumbling out through the courtyard gate, Tobias went up to him with the fish-gall in his hand.  He blew into his father’s eyes and then, taking him by the arm and saying,

Do not be alarmed, father,

he applied the remedy carefully and with both hands peeled off the patches from the corners of Tobit’s eyes.  Tobit threw his arms round him and burst into tears.

I can see you, my son, the light of my eyes!

he cried.

Praise be to God, and praise to his great name and to all his holy angels.  May his great name rest on us.  Praised be all the angels for ever and ever.  He laid his scourge on me, and now, look, I see my son Tobias!

Tobias went inside, rejoicing and praising God with all his might.  He told his father about the success of his journey and the recovery of the money, and how he had married Raguel’s daughter Sarah.

She is on her way,

he said,

quite close to the city gate.

Tobit went out joyfully to meet his daughter-in-law at the gate, praising God as he went.  At the sight of him passing through the city in full vigour and walking without anyone to guide his steps, the people of Nineveh were amazed; and Tobit gave thanks to God before him all his mercy in opening his eyes.

When he met Sarah, the wife of his son Tobias, he blessed her and said to her:

Come in, daughter, welcome!  Praise be to God who has brought you to us.  Blessings on your father and mother, and on my son Tobias, and blessings on you, my daughter.  Come into your home, and may health, blessings, and joy be yours; come in, my daughter.

For all the Jews in Nineveh it was a day of joy, and Ahikar and Nadab, Tobit’s cousins, came to share his happiness.  The joyful celebrations went on for a week, and many were the presents given to them.

Psalm 146 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):


Praise the LORD, O my soul!

I will praise the LORD as long as I live;

I will sing praises to my God while I have my being.

2 Put not your trust in rulers, nor in any child of earth,

for there is not help in them.

When they breathe their last, they return to earth,

and in that day their thoughts perish.

Happy are they who have the God of Jacob for their help!

whose hope is in the LORD their God;

Who made heaven and earth, the seas, and all that is in them;

who keeps his promise for ever.

Who gives justice to those who are oppressed,

and food to those who hunger.

The LORD sets the prisoner free;

the LORD opens the eyes of the blind;

the LORD lifts up those who are bowed down.

8 The LORD loves the righteous;

the LORD cares for the stranger;

he sustains the orphan and the widow,

but frustrates the way of the wicked!

The LORD shall reign for ever,

your God, O Zion, throughout all generations.


Mark 12:35-37 (Revised English Bible):

As he taught in the temple, Jesus went on to say,

How can the scribes maintain that the Messiah is a son of David?  It was David himself who said, when inspired by the Holy Spirit,

“The Lord said to my Lord,

‘Sit at my right hand until I put your enemies under your feet.”

David calls himself “Lord”; how can he be David’s son?”


The Collect:

O God, your never-failing providence sets in order all things both in heaven and earth:  Put away from us, we entreat you, all hurtful things, and give us those things which are profitable for us; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.


1 The LORD said to my lord,

“Sit at My right hand

while I make your enemies your footstool.”

The LORD will stretch from Zion your mighty scepter;

hold sway over your enemies!

3 Your people come forward willingly on your day of battle.

In majestic holiness, from the womb,

from the dawn, yours was the dew of youth.

4 The LORD has sworn and will not relent,

“You are a priest forever, a rightful king by My decree.”

The Lord is at your right hand.

He crushes kings in the day of his anger.

6 He works judgment upon the nations,

heaping up bodies,

crushing heads far and wide.

He drinks from the stream on his way;

therefore he holds his head high.

–Psalm 110, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985), of the Jewish Publication Society

This day’s reading from Mark is short and confusing on its face.  But, when one considers it in literary context and reads the psalm Jesus quotes, the meaning becomes clear.  Many people expect Jesus to be a conquering hero, but he is actually a different kind of Messiah.  Recall that the concept of Messiahship in the Gospel of Mark is that the Messiah must suffer, die, and rise again; that is how his Messianic identity will become clear.  The goodness of Yahweh shines through Jesus, but not in the way that many people expect.  Jesus was not what they wanted him to be.  This was not his fault; it was solely theirs.

Does Jesus disappoint us?  Is he not what what we expect or want?  If so, the fault is solely ours.  We have not been paying sufficient attention to the available evidence.  His life and example demonstrate that Yahweh is good.  What else do we expect or want?

The name Tobias means “Yahweh is good.”  The Book of Tobit teaches that Yahweh is good, too.  Not only did Tobias survive his wedding night, but Raphael expelled the demon Asmodaeus.  A two-week wedding feast followed, and Tobias, Sarah, and Raphael (disguised as the kinsman Azarias) departed for Nineveh, with Tobit’s money.  Meanwhile, Tobit and Anna were concerned that Tobias had met an unfortunate fate.  Soon, however, Tobit had his sight back and met his daughter-in-law.  Everybody was happy, and the Jewish community of Nineveh rejoiced.  God was good, indeed.

I am convinced that God does care for us, and that God sends help our way.  But do we recognize it?  One reason we human beings exist on this planet is to assist each other, so we are supposed to function as vehicles of grace.  We are supposed to behave in a sacramental way toward each other.  The catechism from the 1979 Book of Common Prayer defines the sacraments:

The sacraments are outward and visible signs of inward and spiritual grace, given by Christ as sure and certain means by which we receive that grace.

The Church has seven sacraments:  Baptism, Eucharist, Confirmation, Confession, Matrimony, Unction, and Holy Orders.  These are wonderful, and I respect all of them.  I have, in fact, participated in most of them.  And I am convinced that there is an eighth sacrament:  practiced human kindness, the act of participating in God’s grace toward another human being.  God, in Jesus, has established a fine example to follow.

Thanks be to God!







Adapted from this post:


Posted January 26, 2012 by neatnik2009 in Mark 12, Psalm 110, Psalm 146, Tobit

Tagged with ,

Finally, A Sincere Question!   3 comments

Above:  First Paragraph of the Shema in Hebrew


Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), of The Episcopal Church, contains an adapted two-years weekday lectionary for the Epiphany and Ordinary Time seasons from the Anglican Church of Canada.  I invite you to follow it with me.


Tobit 6:9-11; 7:1-15 (Revised English Bible):

When Tobias had entered Media and was already approaching Ecbatana, Raphael said to the youth,

Tobias, my friend.

He replied,


Raphael said:

We must stay tonight with Raguel, who is a relative of yours.  He has a daughter named Sarah, but no other children, neither sons nor daughters.   You as her next of kin have the right to marry her and inherit the girl’s property….

As they entered Ecbatana Tobias said,

Azarias, my friend, take me straight to our kinsman Raguel.

So he took him to Raguel’s house, where they found him sitting by the courtyard gate.  They greeted him first, and he replied,

Greetings to you, my friends.  You are indeed welcome.

When he brought them into his house, he said to Edna his wife,

Is not this young man like my kinsman Tobit?

Edna questioned him,

Friends, where do you come from?

They answered,

We belong to the tribe of Naphtali, now in captivity at Nineveh.

She asked,

Do you know our kinsman Tobit?

They replied,

Yes, we do.

She said,

Is he well?

They answered,

He is alive and well

and Tobias added,

He is my father.

Raguel jumped up and, with tears in his eyes, he kissed him.

God bless you, my boy,

he said,

son of a good and upright father.  But what a calamity that so just and charitable a man has lost his sight!

He embraced Tobias his kinsman and wept; Edna his wife and their daughter Sarah also wept for Tobit.

Raguel slaughtered a ram from the flock and entertained them royally.  They bathed and then, after washing their hands, took their places at the meal.  Tobias said to Raphael,

Azarias, my friend, ask Raguel to give me Sarah my kinswoman.

Raguel overheard this and said to the young man:

Eat and drink tonight, and enjoy yourself. There is no one but yourself who should have my daughter Sarah; indeed, I ought not to give her anyone else, since you are my nearest kinsman.  However, I must reveal the truth to you, my son:  I have given her in marriage to seven of our kinsmen, and they all died on their wedding night.  My son, eat and drink now, and may the Lord deal kindly with you both.

Tobias answered,

I shall not eat again or drink until you have disposed of this business of mine.

Raguel said to him,

I shall do so:  I give her to you in accordance with the decree in the book of Moses, and Heaven itself has decreed that she shall be yours.  Take your kinswoman; from now on belong to her and she to you, from today she is yours for ever.  May all go well with you both this night, my son; may the Lord of heaven grant you mercy and peace.

Raguel called for Sarah and, when she came, he took her by the hand and gave her to Tobias with these words:

Receive my daughter as your wedded wife in accordance with the law, the decree written in the book of Moses; keep her and take her safely home to your father.  And may the God of heaven grant you prosperity and peace.

Then he sent for her mother and told her to fetch a roll of papyrus, and he wrote out and put his seal on a marriage contract giving Sarah to Tobias as his wife according to this decree.  After that they began to eat and drink.

Psalm 128 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1 Happy are they who fear the LORD,

and who follow in your ways!

2 You shall eat the fruit of your labor;

happiness and prosperity shall be yours.

Your wife shall be like a fruitful vine within your house,

your children like olive shoots round about your table.

4 The man who fears the LORD

shall thus be blessed.

The LORD bless you from Zion,

and may you see the prosperity of Jerusalem all the days of your life.

May you live to see your children’s children;

may peace be upon Israel.

Mark 12:28-34 (Revised English Bible):

Then one of the scribes, who had been listening to these discussions and had observed how well Jesus answered, came forward and asked him,

Which is the first of all the commandments?

He answered,

The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel:  the Lord our God is the one Lord, and you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’   The second is this:  ‘You must love your neighbour as yourself.’  No other commandment is greater than these.

The scribe said to him,

Well said, Teacher.  You are right in saying that God is one and beside him there is no other.  And to love him with all your heart, all your understanding, and all your strength, and to love your neighbour as yourself–that means far more than any whole-offerings and sacrifices.

When Jesus saw how thoughtfully he answered, he said to him,

You are not far from the kingdom of God.

After that nobody dared put any more questions to him.


The Collect:

O God, your never-failing providence sets in order all things both in heaven and earth:  Put away from us, we entreat you, all hurtful things, and give us those things which are profitable for us; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.



Hear, Israel:  the LORD is our God, the LORD our one God; and you must love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.  These commandments which I give you this day are to be remembered and taken to heart; repeat them to your children, and speak to them both indoors and out of doors, when you lie down and when you get up.  Bind them as a sign on your hand and wear them as a pendant on your forehead; write them on the doorposts of your houses and on your gates.

–Deuteronomy 6:4-9 (Revised English Bible)

The recent arc of the Markan narrative in the lectionary has been one of Jesus fielding insincere questions.  But, at the end of this part of the story, a scribe asks an intelligent and sincere question:  What is the greatest commandment.  This man receives a reply unlike the one Jesus had for the Sadducees just a few verses ago:  “You are so far from the truth!”  In this case, Jesus quotes the Shema, a duly famous part of the Law of Moses, and amends it:  We must love our neighbors as we love ourselves.  The scribe agrees with the answer, and Jesus says that the man is near to the kingdom of God.  Did the scribe complete the journey?  The texts are silent on that point, but I hope the answer is affirmative.

Too often certain people and institutions who claim the Christian label become caught up in legalism and call this holiness.  For example, the Church of God (Anderson, Indiana) began in the 1800s as a Restorationist body claiming the Bible alone as its source of authority in matters of doctrine and practice.  For a while men were not allowed to wear neckties to church; the denomination was that strict.  The Anderson, Indiana, group liberalized by 1910-1911, when it permitted men to wear neckties to church.  This was one issue that prompted the Church of God (Guthrie, Oklahoma) to break away; it opposed neckties.  (My source = Encyclopedia of American Religions)

In the 1960s, in rural Kathleen, Georgia, parents began to offer a regular Saturday night chaperoned dance at the fellowship hall of Andrew Chapel Methodist Church.  This was an event for local youth, so they would have something positive to do on the weekend.  One night, the pastor of a local Baptist church made an unfortunate scene at one of these dances when he complained loudly about all the allegedly sinful dancing taking place indoors.  Some of his parishioners were at that dance, and that pastor had to seek other employment shortly thereafter.  (My source = the United Methodist minister who had served as pastor of Andrew Chapel in the 1960s)

These are just two examples of what has happened when people seeking to obey God become so lost in the trees that they lose sight of the forest.  If we will focus on loving people as ourselves, for example, many details will fall into place.  It is laudable to love the Bible, but not to seek permission for every minute detail (such as whether it is proper to wear a necktie) in its pages.  And the denunciation of all dancing as sinful is an old saw, one that ought to die.

As Jesus reiterated, we need to love God fully.  After all, God loves us.  The Book of Tobit tells a fictional story of that love.  After the events of the previous excerpt from Tobit, the elderly blind man sends his son to Ectabana, in Media, to visit a family friend with whom Tobit had deposited money.  (Tobit and Anna needed the money now.)  The archangel Raphael, disguised as Azarias, a kinsman of Tobias, accompanies Tobit’s son to Ecbatana and helps ensure the successful match-making between Tobias and Sarah.  The divine healing of Sarah then Tobit is about to commence in the narrative.

The scriptures say that God wants to be gracious to us.  May we respond favorably to God and extend grace to others, as we have opportunity.  Yesterday I had the chance to be extraordinarily kind to a student experiencing a medical situation.  It will not derail her progress in my course; I will not permit it to do so.  I mention this for one reason:  Everything I have learned from my formative years tells me that my decision was the only proper one.  So, when the opportunity to function as an agent of grace presented itself, I never considered doing anything else.  Yes, I broke rules to do this, but God has broken rules in order to extend grace to many of us again and again.  I have learned the meaning of the words of Jesus:

Go and do likewise.

All praise to the God of mercy!






Adapted from this post:


God Heals   1 comment

Above:  Raphael the Archangel, According to Bartolome Esteban Murillo (1617-1682)


Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), of The Episcopal Church, contains an adapted two-years weekday lectionary for the Epiphany and Ordinary Time seasons from the Anglican Church of Canada.  I invite you to follow it with me.


Tobit 3:1-11, 15c-17 (Revised English Bible):

In deep distress I groaned and wept aloud, and as I groaned I prayed:

O Lord, you are just and all your ways are merciful and true; you are the Judge of the world.  Now bear me in mind, Lord, and look upon me.  Do not punish me for the sins and errors which I and my fathers have committed.  We have sinned against you and disobeyed your commandments, and you have given us up to the despoiler, to captivity and death, until we have become a proverb and a byword; we are taunted by all the nations among whom you have scattered us.  I acknowledge the justice of your many judgements, the due penalty for our sins, for we have not carried out your commandments or lived in true obedience before you.  And now deal with me as you will.  Command that my life be taken away from me so that I may be removed from the face of the earth and turned to dust.  I would rather be dead than alive, for I have had to listen to taunts I have not deserved and my grief is great.  Lord, command that I be released from this misery; let me go to the eternal resting-place.  Do not turn your  face from me, Lord; I had rather die than live in such  misery, listening to such taunts.

On the same day it happened that Sarah, the daughter of Raguel who lived at Ectabana in Media, also had to listen to taunts, from one of her father’s servant-girls.  Sarah had been given in marriage to seven husbands and, before the marriage could be duly consumated, each one of them had been killed by the evil demon Asmodaeus.  The servant said to her:  “It is you who kill your husbands!  You have already been given in marriage to seven, and you have not borne the name of any of them.  Why punish us because they are dead?  Go and join your husbands.  I hope never to see son or daughter of yours!”

Deeply distressed at that, she went in tears to the roof-chamber of her father’s house, meaning to hang herself.  But she had second thoughts and said to herself:

Perhaps they will taunt my father and say, ‘You had one dear daughter and she hanged herself because of her troubles,’ and so I shall bring my aged father sorrow to his grave.  No, I will not hang myself; it would be better to beg the Lord to let me die and not live on to hear such reproaches.

Thereupon she spread out her hands towards the window in prayer saying,

Praise be to you, merciful God, praise to your name for evermore; all creation praise you for ever!…Already seven husbands of mine have died; what have to live for any longer?  But if it is not your will, Lord, to let me die, have regard to me in your mercy and spare me those taunts.

At that very moment the prayers of both were heard in the glorious presence of God, and Raphael was sent to cure the two of them:  Tobit by removing the white patches from his eyes so that he might see God’s light again, and Sarah daughter of Raguel by giving her in marriage to Tobias son of Tobit and by setting her free from the evil demon Asmodaeus, for it was the destiny of Tobias and of no other suitor to possess her.  At the moment when Tobit went back into his house from the courtyard, Sarah came down from her father’s roof-chamber.

Psalm 25:1-8 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

To you, O LORD, I lift up my soul;

my God, I put my trust in you;

let me not be humiliated,

nor let my enemies triumph over me.

Let none who look to you be put to shame;

let the treacherous be disappointed in their schemes.

3 Show me your ways, O LORD,

and teach me your paths.

4 Lead me in your truth and teach me,

for you are the God of my salvation;

in you have I trusted all the day long.

Remember, O LORD, your compassion and love,

for they are from everlasting.

Remember not the sins of my youth and my transgressions;

remember me according to your love

and for the sake of your goodness, O LORD.

Gracious and upright is the LORD;

therefore he teaches sinners in his way.

8 He guides the humble in doing right

and teaches his way to the lowly.

Mark 12:18-27 (Revised English Bible):

Next Sadducees, who maintain that there is no resurrection, came to him and asked:

Teacher, Moses laid it down for us that if there are brothers, and one dies leaving a wife but no child, then the next should marry the widow and provide an heir for his brother.  Now there were seven brothers.  The first took a wife and died without issue.  Then the second married her, and he too died without issue; so did the third; none of the seven left any issue.  Finally the woman died.  At the resurrection, when they rise from the dead, whose wife will she be, since all seven had married her?

Jesus said to them,

How far you are from the truth!  You know neither the scriptures nor the power of God.  When they rise from the dead, men and women do not marry; they are like angels in heaven.

As for the resurrection of the dead, have you not read in the book of Moses, in the story of the burning bush, how God spoke to him and said, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob’?  He is not the God of the dead but the God of the living.  You are very far from the truth.


The Collect:

O God, your never-failing providence sets in order all things both in heaven and earth:  Put away from us, we entreat you, all hurtful things, and give us those things which are profitable for us; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.


Voltaire wrote that, if God created human beings in his image, we have more than returned the favor.  Yes, we mere mortals carry inadequate God images in our imaginations, as J. B. Phillips argued in Your God is Too Small.   As Ron Popeil says, “But wait, there’s more.”  Our concepts of the afterlife are too small and limited, too.  They tend to reflect earthly conditions and circumstances.  Ancient Egyptians sought an idealized Egypt in their afterlife, and the popular image of Hell as a place of fire, smoke, and noxious fumes comes from the old Jerusalem garbage dump.  These are just two examples of a much greater possible number.

Likewise, many have hypothesized that human relationships carry over into the afterlife.  Notable among these are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, with their concept of marriage continuing after death.  The Sadducees labored under no such idea, for they rejected the possibility of life after death.  So their question regarding the levirate marriage of one woman to seven brothers was insincere.  This story in Mark occurs in the context of attempts to entrap Jesus in his own words.  As in the cases of the other challenges, Jesus is the superior debater.

FYI:  Levirate marriage was a practice meant to continue the family name, keep property within the family, and protect a childless widow from homelessness and other unfortunate circumstances.  It comes from Deuteronomy 25:5-10 and features prominently in Genesis 38.  (Genesis 38 contains a theological hot potato of a story, the moral  implications of which I leave for you, O reader, to ponder.  But I must move along now.)

Had these Sadducees asked a sincere question, they would have received a constructive answer from Jesus.  In the Bible, God says to those ask sincere questions than to those who presume to know the answers or to those who make insincere queries.  (Read the book for confirmation of this assertion.)  Speaking of sincerity, let us turn to Tobit and Sarah.

Both were in very bad situations, and both wanted to die. Tobit, blind, helpless, and living in exile, had just accused his wife of stealing livestock.  It was a false charge, and he realized this fact after Anna, his wife, denied the accusation and berated him.  But Tobit had more on his mind.  He was part of a despised and politically weak population dispersed throughout an occupying power.  He had heard the taunts for a long time.  It all seemed like too much to bear.

And Sarah had been married to seven men yet was still a virgin.  She had developed a reputation as having bad luck and perhaps being a murderer.  She lived in a patriarchal society which presumed that a woman was supposed to be a wife and a mother.  And the author of the text presumed that she was property, too.  Pay attention to the language:  The Revised English Bible says that Tobias was destined to “possess” her.  Likewise, the New Revised Standard Version says “have” and the New American Bible translates the verb as “claim.”  (Aside:  Sarah was a woman, not a piece of furniture.  But I cannot make the text fit early 21st Century gender concepts.)

Anyhow, the author of the Book of Tobit says that God heard the prayers of Tobit and Sarah, and sent the archangel Raphael to cure them both.  Raphael means “God heals.”  Much of the rest of the book is the account of how this healing took place.  Without giving away too many details, I can say that people were part of the process.

As I typed the reading from Tobit, the prayers for death struck a chord with me.  I have been in difficult situations in which I have prayed for death.   When death did not come, I cursed the mornings on which I awoke.  And God did cure me via direct action as well as by people.  Perhaps you, O reader, have been in a similar situation or know someone who has.  In my case, it did get better.

I wonder what the spiritual lives of the Sadducees could have been if they had been interested in sincerity, not in insincerity.  When one plays semantic and mind games with God, God wins.  And God wants sincerity and humility from us.  If we argue with God, fine; let us argue sincerely.  (Read the Book of Job.)  If we pray for death during difficult times, God hears us.  And I am convinced that the most merciful answer at that time is “No.”  That was the answer God gave me, and that was the answer in the narrative of the Book of Tobit.  In the cases of Tobit and Sarah, God had something wonderful in mind, and this involved them being alive.

As St. Patrick wrote:

Christ be with me,

Christ within me,

Christ behind me,

Christ before me,

Christ beside me,

Christ to win me,

Christ to comfort and restore me,

Christ beneath me,

Christ above me,

Christ in quiet,

Christ in danger,

Christ in hearts of all that love me,

Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.







Adapted from this post:


What Belongs to Caesar and What Belongs to God   1 comment

Above:  A Coin, from 36 C.E., Bearing the Image of the Emperor Tiberius


Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), of The Episcopal Church, contains an adapted two-years weekday lectionary for the Epiphany and Ordinary Time seasons from the Anglican Church of Canada.  I invite you to follow it with me.


Tobit 2:9-14 (Revised English Bible):

That night, after bathing myself, I went into my courtyard and lay down to sleep by the courtyard wall, leaving my face uncovered because of the heat.  I did not know that there were sparrows in the wall above me, and their droppings fell, still warm, right into my eyes and produced white patches.  I went to the doctors to be cured, but the more they treated me with their ointments, the more my eyes became blinded by the white patches, until I lost my sight.  I was blind for four years; my kinsmen grieved for me, and for two years Ahikar looked after me, until he moved to Elymais.

At that time Anna my wife used to earn money by women’s work, spinning and weaving, and her employees would pay her when she took them what she had done.  One day, on the seventh of Dystrus, after she had cut off the piece she had woven and delivered it, they not only paid her wages in full, but also gave her a kid from her herd of goats to take home.  When my wife came into the house to me, the kid began to bleat, and I called out to her:

Where does that kid come from?  I hope it was not stolen.

But she assured me:

It was given me as a present, over and above my wages.

I did not believe her and insisted that she return it, and I blushed with shame for what she had done.  Her rejoinder was:

So much for all your acts of charity and all your good works!  Everyone can now see what you are really like.

Psalm 112:1-2, 7-9 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):


Happy are they who fear the Lord

and who have great delight in his commandments!

Their descendants will be mighty in the land;

the generation of the upright will be blessed.

They will not be afraid of any evil rumors;

their heart is right;

they put their trust in the Lord.

Their heart is established and will not shrink,

until they see their desire upon their enemies.

They have given freely to the poor,

and their righteousness stands fast for ever;

they will hold up their head with honor.

Mark 12:13-17 (Revised English Bible):

A number of the Pharisees and men of Herod’s party were sent to trap him with a question.  They came and said,

Teacher, we know you are a sincere man and court no one’s favour, whoever he may be; you teach in all sincerity the way of life that God requires.  Are we or are we not permitted to pay taxes to the Roman emperor?  Shall we pay or not?

He saw through their duplicity, and said,

Why are you trying to catch me out?  Fetch me a silver piece, and let me look at it.

They brought one, and he asked them,

Whose head is this, and whose inscription?

They replied,


Then Jesus said,

Pay Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and God what belongs to God.

His reply left them completely taken aback.


The Collect:

O God, your never-failing providence sets in order all things both in heaven and earth:  Put away from us, we entreat you, all hurtful things, and give us those things which are profitable for us; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.


The story of Tobit continues.  He goes blind due to natural causes and begins to feel helpless.  He lashes out verbally at his wife, accusing her of stealing a young goat, and she rebukes him, understandably.  But, if one continues to read, Tobit realizes that he has accused her unjustly, and prays immediately for forgiveness.   He is imperfect, but he does the right thing more often than not.  And Tobit understands his duties to God.

Duties to God, especially versus those to the occupying Roman Empire, reside at the heart of the reading from Mark.  Jewish religious and political elites collaborating with the empire ask Jesus a question meant to entrap him.  Is it lawful to pay the small annual poll tax to the Roman Emperor, Tiberius?  This was not a major source of imperial revenue, but it did remind the Jews living under occupation in their homeland who was in charge, at least in the temporal realm.  This poll tax was payable in a coin bearing the image of the emperor and a written reminder of the official line, which was he was the “Divine Caesar.”  Such a coin was a purposeful affront to Jewish sensibilities.  The tax was in the amount a denarius, or one day’s wage, and men aged 14-65 years and women aged 12-65 had to pay it.  This was a despised tax, and the Romans were rubbing the Jews’ noses in it.

This was a dicey political situation for Jesus.  If he said,

No, this is unjust taxation,

he would be in trouble with the Romans.  And many soldiers were in town during the days leading up to the Passover, the annual commemoration of God’s deliverance of the Jews from slavery in Egypt.  Some of them could arrest Jesus at a moment’s notice.  But if he said,

Yes, Tiberius is our emperor, and he deserves our respect, too,

Jesus would lose much public support.   Our Lord and Savior, being perceptive and intelligent, delivered a faultless answer:  The coin belongs to Tiberius; pay it.  But give to God what is due to God.  And what is due to God?  We owe God the pattern of our daily living.

Simply put, the goal of life should be that it will consist increasingly of prayer.  How we live ought to be a prayer.  Too often we think of prayer only as “talking to God.”  There is nothing wrong with oral prayer, but the words we address to God need to be only part of prayer life.  A sense of the sacred ought to inform even the simplest, most mundane actions.  The character Tobit understood this, and repented when he went astray.  So should we.

For none of us has life in himself,

and none becomes his own master when he dies.

For if we have life, we are alive in the Lord,

and if we die, we die in the Lord.

So, then, whether we live or die,

we are the Lord’s possession.

–From The Burial of the Dead:  Rite Two, The Book of Common Prayer (1979), quoting Romans 14:7-8







Adapted from this post:


Posted January 26, 2012 by neatnik2009 in Mark 12, Psalm 112, Tobit

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Holiness, Actual and Imagined   1 comment

Above:  The Wicked Husbandmen, by Jan Luyken


Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), of The Episcopal Church, contains an adapted two-years weekday lectionary for the Epiphany and Ordinary Time seasons from the Anglican Church of Canada.  I invite you to follow it with me.


Tobit 1:1-2 and 2:1-8 (Revised English Bible):

This is the story of Tobit son of Tobiel, son of Hananiel, son of Aduel, son of Gaguel, of the family of Asiel, of the tribe of Naphtali.  In the time of King Shalmaneser of Assyria he was taken captive from Thisbe which is south of Kedesh-naphtali in Upper Galilee above Hazor, beyond the road to the west, north of Peor.

During the reign of Esarhaddon, I retuned to my house, and my wife Anna and my son Tobias were restored to me.  At our festival of Pentecost, that is the feast of Weeks, a fine meal was prepared for me and I took my place.  The table being laid and food in plenty put before me, I said to Tobias,

My son, go out and, if you find among our people captive here in Nineveh some poor man who is wholeheartedly mindful of God, bring him back to share my meal.  I shall wait for you, son, till you return.

Tobias went to look for a poor man of our people, but came straight back and cried,


I replied,

Yes, my son.

He answered,

Father, one of our nation has been murdered!  His body is lying in the market-place; he has just been strangled.

I jumped up and left my meal untasted.  I took the body from the square and put it in one of the outbuildings until sunset when I could bury it; then I went indoors, duly bathed myself, and ate my food in sorrow.  I recalled the words of the prophet Amos in the passage about Bethel:

Your festivals shall be turned into mourning,

and all your songs into lamentation,

and I wept.  When the sun had gone down, I went and dug a grave and buried the body.  My neighbours jeered.

Is he no longer afraid?

they said.

He ran away last time, when they were hunting him to put him to death for this very offence; and here he is again burying the dead!

Psalm 112:1-6 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):


Happy are they who fear the Lord

and have great delight in his commandments!

Their descendants will be mighty in the land;

the generation of the upright will be blessed.

3 Wealth and riches will be in their house,

and their righteousness will last for ever.

4 Light shines in the darkness for the upright;

the righteous are merciful and full of compassion.

It is good for them to be generous in lending

and to manage their affairs with justice.

6 For they will never be shaken;

the righteous will be kept in everlasting remembrance.

Mark 12:1-12 (Revised English Bible):

He went on to speak to them in parables:

A man planted a vineyard and put a wall round it, hewed out a winepress, and built a watch-tower; then he let it out to the wine-growers and went abroad.  When the season came, he sent a servant to the tenants to collect from them his share of the produce.  But they seized him, thrashed him, and sent him away empty-handed.  Again, he sent them another servant, whom they beat about the head and treated outrageously, and then another, whom they killed.  He sent many others and they thrashed and killed the rest.  He had now no one left to send except his beloved son, and in the end he sent him.  “They will respect my son,” he said; but the tenants said to one another, “This is the heir; come on, let us kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.”  So they seized him and killed him, and flung his body out of the vineyard.  What will the owner of the vineyard do?  He will come and put the tenants to death and give the vineyard to others.

Have you never read this text:  “The stone which the builders rejected has become the main corner-stone.  This is the Lord’s doing, and it is wonderful in our eyes”?

They saw that the parable was aimed at them and wanted to arrest him; but they were afraid of the people, so they left him alone and went away.


The Collect:

O God, your never-failing providence sets in order all things both in heaven and earth:  Put away from us, we entreat you, all hurtful things, and give us those things which are profitable for us; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.


The Book of Tobit, part of the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox canons of scripture, is, like Jonah, religious fiction.  Tobit is a pious Jew living in exile in the Assyrian Empire.  He loves God, his wife, Anna, and his son, Tobias.  And Tobit observes the Jewish faith as much as possible, given the circumstances.  He cannot, for example, observe the harvest festival of Pentecost in Jerusalem, but he does seek to share his Pentecost meal with a less fortunate Jew.  One year Tobit’s son informs his father that the body of a recently murdered Jew is on public display, not buried.  So, in violation of civic law but in accordance with Jewish law, Tobit takes and buries the body.  And he bathes himself ritually afterward, for touching a corpse made one unclean.

Thus Tobit sets in motion the action of the book bearing his name.  I will get to that in subsequent posts, but it is sufficed to say here that Tobit is a model of sincere Jewish piety, and that this holiness brings about both suffering and rewards.  Real life is like that, and the Book of Tobit, although a work of fiction, teaches this lesson.

Now, for the other side…..

Let us ground ourselves in the narrative within the Gospel of Mark.  Jesus is in Holy Week.  He is also engaged in a series of confrontations with Jewish religious leaders headquartered at the Temple at Jerusalem.  The “them” in Mark 12:1 consists of chief priests, scribes, and elders.  Jesus tells them a parable about an absentee landlord (YHWH), a vineyard (the Jewish people), murdered servants (prophets), wicked, selfish tenants (chief priests, scribes and elders) who hope to become heirs by killing the son, and the son (Jesus) of the absentee landlord.  The son will die, but he will become the chief cornerstone, and the God will win despite the best efforts of the wicked tenants, who will lose their position in the vineyard.

Brendan Byrne, S.J., in A Costly Freedom:  A Theological Reading of Mark’s Gospel (Collegeville, MN:  Liturgical Press, 2008), describes this parable as an encapsulation of the Gospel of Mark.  This makes sense:  Jesus lives, suffers, dies, and still triumphs.

The piety of these religious leaders served to build them up and set them apart from the “great unwashed,” who lacked the financial resources to achieve the standards of holiness the religious elite held up as the goal.  This was self-serving religion, not true seeking after God and identifying with the poor.  The fictional Tobit personified true holiness, and, by grace, so can we.  The religious elite Jesus stared down in the telling of the parable could have repented and come to personify true holiness, but they entrenched themselves in defensive positions.

May God reckon us as being more like Tobit than these chief priests, scribes, and elders, who lost their stake in the vineyard when the Romans destroyed Jerusalem in 70 C.E., during the First Jewish War.








Adapted from this post:


Posted January 26, 2012 by neatnik2009 in Mark 12, Psalm 112, Tobit

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