June 5, 2017
by Edward Morse
Creighton University's School of Law
click here for photo and information about the writer

Memorial of Saint Boniface, Bishop and Martyr
Lectionary: 353

Tobit 1:3; 2:1a-8
Psalms 112:1b-2, 3b-4, 5-6
Mark 12:1-12

Praying Ordinary Time

Weekly Guide for Daily Prayer

The first reading tells a story about Tobit, a faithful follower of God who showed his devotion through acts of charity.  It appears that Tobit was part of a family of faithful believers who had developed habits for following the Mosaic laws and customs involving worship and reverence of God, as well as for practicing charity among his neighbors.  His acts of burying the dead and feeding the hungry would be recognized today among the corporal works of mercy.  Even without the benefit of Jesus’ teaching, he instinctively did things that exemplified righteousness and mercy.  

Sometimes these acts required great courage because they entailed risks of adverse consequences from the occupying sovereign.  Moreover, it appears that Tobit was not merely carried along by the crowd in doing these good works; sometimes he may have been alone.  His neighbors apparently thought he was foolish for taking such risks, even mocking him for his works.   

What causes such deep devotion?  Acts of charity spring from many sources.  But once the habits of the heart are formed in this manner, a powerful force for good is at work, which also witnesses to the truth of God’s mercy in our midst.  Query the effect of a righteous father and mother in Tobit’s trajectory – did they launch him in the right direction?  Tobit seems to exemplify the man who fears the Lord, as referenced in the Psalm for today.  He conducts his affairs with justice.  He shall never be moved.  It is glorious to behold works that proceed from this kind of consistent and faithful commitment, including the legacy that follows after them. 

Today’s gospel reflects a different sort of commitment from the religious leaders that Jesus was teaching.  Jesus stings their sensibilities, as his parable of the vineyard casts them in the same mold as those disobedient and unrighteous characters who would not respect any limits on their desires for autonomy.  They neither feared nor respected the owner of the vineyard, but it is quite clear that they should have; judgement was coming.  Before we pile on too quickly, we should recall that sometimes we resemble these folks when we decide to follow our own autonomous paths that lead to sin and alienation.  Jesus’ teachings are not always about the other fellow, after all.  We, too, need mercy and reconciliation -- which sometimes comes with a reminder that a little R-E-S-P-E-C-T – to borrow from Aretha Franklin – is in order.

But of course, sometimes we simply respect the wrong things.  When Jesus quotes the scripture to them about the stone which was rejected becoming the cornerstone, they sought to arrest him, “but they feared the crowd.”  That is quite a contrast from the righteous man, Tobit, isn’t it?

Lord, teach us to guard our hearts against the hardness that comes from pursuing our sinful inclinations that alienate us from you.  Help us build habits of loving and serving you in all things, and to transmit those habits to the next generation.  Let us honor you by passing along the charity and mercy that we have received toward others, that we may be moved by love and respect for you, not by the fear of man.   Thanks be to God.

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