All week, the first Mass readings have come from the Book of Tobit. It is sometimes called a religious novel, although Fr. John Schwantes jokingly characterized it as a soap opera. (Something akin to a TV dramatic series may be more accurate.) One of Tobit’s kinsmen is strangled in the streets and Tobit risks arrest by burying him. Tobit goes blind when a bird poops in his eyes. Tobit’s wife Anna receives a young goat as a bonus for some weaving she did and he thinks she has stolen it and goes ballistic over it. Meanwhile, over in Medea, Sarah is being abused by her maids because she has been married seven times and each of her husbands died on the wedding night due to the wicked demon Asmodeus.
But all works out: Sarah gets married to Tobit’s son Tobiah (and Tobiah does not die, as the wicked demon has been driven from Sarah), Tobit’s eyesight is restored, and everybody is happy. And in today’s reading the angel Raphael explains how God heard all of their prayers and commissioned him to help heal things.
The USCCB’s introduction to the book says
The Book of Tobit, named after its principal character, combines Jewish piety and morality with folklore in a fascinating story that has enjoyed wide popularity in both Jewish and Christian circles. Prayers, psalms, and words of wisdom, as well as the skillfully constructed story itself, provide valuable insights into the faith and the religious milieu of its unknown author…Although the Book of Tobit is usually listed with the historical books, it more correctly stands midway between them and the wisdom literature. It contains numerous maxims like those found in the wisdom books … as well as standard wisdom themes: fidelity to the law, intercessory function of angels, piety toward parents, purity of marriage, reverence for the dead, and the value of almsgiving, prayer, and fasting.
Elizabeth Scalia called the book “instructive and underutilized,” suggesting it is a perfect read for the Year of the Family because of its strong family relationships. Whatever else it is, it is good read. And it is not a long book and so you can easily sit down and read it from beginning to end. You’ll find a lot to reflect on.