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God Listens

Submitted by on Wednesday, 3 June 2009No Comment

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Once more we find ourselves before a liturgical text that presents selections from Tobit 3:1-17; the liturgical text omits a part of the prayer of Sara (vv. 12-15) not because it is unimportant but because it repeats some elements that we learn from the narrative part of the woman’s story (cf. vv. 7-10).

To appreciate what the author is doing here, one should read 3:17 where he gives a preview of what will happen in the main story. The angel Raphael is sent by God in order to reverse the situation of Tobit and Sara with the help of Tobias, Tobit’s son. We are told in this long verse that Tobit will in the end be cured of his blindness and Sara will finally be saved from her bondage to the demon Asmodeus. From this verse, we also discover the plot of the story of Tobit, a plot that is also found in the story of Ruth. In brief, the plot involves an Israelite who for some reason or another that is not his/her fault is not receiving the blessings of God for the children of Abraham. In the end of the story the Israelite’s fortune will be reversed but this will be done through the agency of a family member. In the book of Ruth, we have Naomi who has become embittered because of the sufferings she endures when she loses her husband and children and their land. In the end of the story, she will be redeemed and restored to her place in Israel, by family and land. Between the beginning and end is the story of how Ruth and the relative Boaz work together to bring about her change in fortune. In the case Tobit and Sarah, Tobiah with the help of Raphael will be instrumental.

In this part of the narrative, the author presents the prayer of both Tobit and Sarah. While Tobit prays in one part of the world, Sarah also raises her voice to God. God hears both prayers and sends a solution. The situation is similar to that of the Israelites at the beginning of the book of Exodus. The Israelites, feeling the oppression of a Pharaoh who does not share a previous Pharaoh’s sympathy, raise their voice to God. God hears them and sends them a savior, Moses. Here, the savior is an angel, Raphael and Tobiah, Tobit’s son.

There are similarities in the situation of Tobit and Sarah. Both suffer unjustly. We have already heard Tobit’s assessment of his condition. With Sarah, it is related to her role as a woman in Israel. She has been married seven times and yet, she remains a virgin. The misery of this condition is highlighted in a slave woman’s rebuke to Sarah, the mistress, accusing her of murdering her husbands. Virginity is perfected in motherhood; women are meant to bear children. Both the maid and Sarah do not know that the latter’s condition derives from the work of Asmodeus, the demon of lust, gambling and of destroyed marriages. Below are some resources about Asmodeus who has a reputation in Jewish demonology and medieval demonic lore.

Thus we find two Israelites, a man and a woman who suffer unjustly. But God would not leave the prayers of his faithful unheeded. With this assurance, the author of the Book of Tobit prepares us for the adventures of Tobiah who will in the end bring about healing for both his father and future wife.

Tobit 3:1-17
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1Then Tobias sighed, and began to pray with tears,
2Saying: Thou art just, O Lord, and all thy judgments are just, and all thy ways mercy, and truth, and judgment:
3And now, O Lord, think of me, and take not revenge of my sins, neither remember my offenses, nor those of my parents.
4For we have not obeyed thy commandments, therefore are we delivered to spoil and to captivity, and death, and are made a fable, and a reproach to all nations, amongst which thou hast scattered us.
5And now, O Lord, great are thy judgments, because we have not done according to thy precepts, and have not walked sincerely before thee:
6And now, O Lord, do with me according to thy will, and command my spirit to be received in peace: for it is better for me to die, than to live.
7Now it happened on the same day, that Sara daughter of Raguel, in Rages a city of the Medes, received a reproach from one of her father's servant maids,
8Because she had been given to seven husbands, and a devil named Asmodeus had killed them, at their first going in unto her.
9So when she reproved the maid for her fault, she answered her, saying: May we never see son, or daughter of thee upon the earth, thou murderer of thy husbands.
10Wilt thou kill me also, as thou hast already killed seven husbands? At these words she went into an upper chamber of her house: and for three days and three nights did neither eat nor drink:
11But continuing in prayer with tears besought God, that he would deliver her from this reproach.
12And it came to pass on the third day, when she was making an end of her prayer, blessing the Lord,
13She said: Blessed is thy name, O God of our fathers: who when thou hast been angry, wilt shew mercy, and in the time of tribulation forgivest the sins of them that call upon thee.
14To thee, O Lord, I turn my face, to thee I direct my eyes.
15I beg, O Lord, that thou loose me from the bond of this reproach, or else take me away from the earth.
16Thou knowest, O Lord, that I never coveted a husband, and have kept my soul clean from all lust.
17Never have I joined myself with them that play: neither have I made myself partaker with them that walk in lightness.

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