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Home » Daily Readings

Out of the Depths

Submitted by on Tuesday, 2 June 2009No Comment

_blindtobit

Today’s selection from Tobit is a look at a man whose life has really gone — so to speak — to the dogs. He does what is right (burying the dead) and yet he goes blind (2:7-10). Because he can no longer work, Tobit suffers the humiliation of having to be supported by a wife. It was perhaps because of this that Tobit commits the sin of judging the wife who is slaving for him (2:11-14). The liturgical selection ends here, but the story actually ends in 3:6. What the selection does not include is Tobit’s grief at the realization of his sin and his prayer of lament (3:2-6).

Here then is a summary of Tobit 2:7-3:6

  • 2:7-8 Tobit buries the dead and is mocked by the neighbors
  • 2:9-10 Tobit goes blind for four years
  • 2:11-12 Tobit’s wife Anna works to support the family (this actually prepares for the following section)
  • 2:13-14 The incident of the goat and Tobit’s sin of judging his wife
  • 3:1-6 Tobit’s grief and prayer

2:7-8 continues the previous account of Tobit’s desire to do kindness to less fortunate Jews on the feast of Pentecost. Upon finding out from his son that there was an unburied dead Jew, he leaves his dinner to do this act of charity. His neighbors seeing him, mock him. I mention this here because these are precisely the acts of kindness referred to by his wife (2:14c), and the mockery he mentions in prayer (3:6)

2:9-10 tells the story of Tobit’s blindness. We are told that the blindness was so serious that it was not only incurable but also because it prevented Tobit to see a more positive side to the goat he hears bleating. In any case, he mentions for the second time “Ahikar”, his nephew who takes care of him for two years.

The mention of Ahikar is interesting precisely because it was a name already well known among Jews as the wise counsellor of the Great King Sennacherib. Scholars see here the desire of the author of Tobit to link his book to the great wisdom tradition of Ahikar. “The Story of Ahikar” follows the pattern already discernible in the Joseph story (of Genesis) and that of Daniel and his companions. Below are some interesting articles on the web about the Story of Ahikar and its place in non-canonical wisdom literature . The link to the Intratext leads to the text of “The Story of Ahikar.” It was also a book known to Christians; this is indicated by certain additions in its Syriac version, additions (and modifications) that betray a Christian mindset.

In 2:11-14, the author shows us how Tobit realizes that he has gone far down into misery. A blind man is rendered incapable of work, something that the Jews valued because to work is a privilege of man and belongs to his dignity as God’s partner. It is humiliating for a man to be out of work; doubly humiliating if it is his wife who does all the work. Anna, Tobit’s wife is presented here as the ideal wife, resourceful and able to bring the proverbial bacon into the house. But Tobit, wrapped up in his own misery, was not able to appreciate that aspect, judging her to be a thief when in fact he brought home a bonus for her work. Anna’s response to the accusation of Tobit also betrays a woman’s hurt and incapacity to understand because of grief. Her reply is — if we consider the foregoing story — unfair. But her words, like the previous quotation from Amos (2:6, from Amos 8:10), brings Tobit to realize his misery and from the depths of his grief prays to God.

Amos 8:10
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10And I will turn your feasts into mourning, and all your songs into lamentation: and I will bring up sackcloth upon every back of yours, and baldness upon every head: and I will make it as the mourning of an only son, and the latter end thereof as a bitter day.

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