The first reading is from the book of Tobit. I don’t recall this book (forgive me, O Lord, for letting my mind drift when this excerpt was read at mass in the past!), and since it is a rather short book, I skimmed it to place the reading excerpt in context. Tobit sounds like a remarkable man – driven by social justice to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and bury the dead while in exile from his homeland. One could almost see him in a ghetto during World War II, being the man who was there in service to those in need. Even though he was warned by the Assyrians, Tobit continued these works of mercy, and then was imprisoned for his ritual burials of fellow Jewish exiles. In all the accounts included in the book, he was faithful to the precepts of his faith. His reward for this faithfulness was imprisonment, forfeiture of his properties, blindness, and ridicule.
The psalm response from Psalm 112 could be written about Tobit and all those who follow God’s call. The psalm lauds those who delight in God’s commands, who are gracious and merciful and just. As it was with Tobit, such people can never be moved or swayed from the right path.
Can we see ourselves in Tobit? Can we do what he did – feed the hungry, clothe the naked, give alms, bury the dead with dignity and respect – even though the culture around us puts up obstacles to make it harder for us to do so? Can we continue in these efforts when we face great adversity, physical infirmity, even social disapproval and ostracism? We have a downtown church here in Omaha renowned for its short masses. We sometimes attend and without fail there is a humble man begging to the side of the main doorway. It is interesting to see how many people totally ignore his presence as they file into mass. How often do we not see the people that Tobit saw and served?
The parable from Mark has always been a little puzzling for me. Why didn’t the owner of the vineyard take a sheriff or deputy with him and just eject the reprobate tenants after the first incident, instead of playing an escalating game of brinksmanship? Was he overly trusting? The owner’s losses became greater with each failed attempt, eventually even the loss of his beloved son. What was the owner thinking?
It is relatively easy to see ourselves in the tenants, constantly rejecting the messengers from the landlord (God), including the most precious messenger, the beloved son. Most of us could reflect on daily lapses where we have rejected some part of God’s call to us. And many times I think this is the message that we are called to consider when reading this passage. When we see ourselves as the tenants, how grateful are we for the many chances we have to respond with love to the overtures of the landlord?
But can we see ourselves in the landlord? How patient are we when others harm us, when they show us disrespect, when they challenge our authority, when they reject what we think are reasonable requests? If we view the parable from the landlord’s, from God’s, perspective, how do we respond to our frustration when the tenants continually mistreat our representatives? How can we continue to love the tenants who time and again behave badly? What does it tell us about our God who always responds in love, even to the tenants who kill the beloved Son?
And so my prayer today is for the unflagging dedication of Tobit in serving the least among us, and for the constant patience of the landlord in responding in love to the disrespect that others extend to me.
Collaborative Ministry Office Guestbook