Sunday, September 28, 2008

Bible Reading: Tobit 5:4-8 (aka Tobias)

Tobiah went to look for someone acquainted with the roads who would travel with him to Media.

As soon as he went out, he found the angel Raphael standing before him, though he did not know that this was an angel of God.

Tobiah said to him, "Who are you, young man?" He replied, "I am an Israelite, one of your kinsmen. I have come here to work." Tobiah said, "Do you know the way to Media?"

The other replied: "Yes, I have been there many times. I know the place well and I know all the routes. I have often traveled to Media; I used to stay with our kinsman Gabael, who lives at Rages in Media. It is a good two days' travel from Ecbatana to Rages, for Rages is situated at the mountains, Ecbatana out on the plateau."

Tobiah said to him, "Wait for me, young man, till I go back and tell my father; for I need you to make the journey with me. I will, of course, pay you."

Raphael replied, "Very well, I will wait for you; but do not be long."

This reading relates the first meeting of Tobiah, son of the blind Tobit, with the archangel Raphael. Only three archangels are mentioned by name in the scriptures: Michael, Gabriel and Raphael. Each of the archangels fulfill different missions on behalf of God. Gabriel speaks for God. Michael works with the powerful on earth to thwart the objectives of Satan, and also human beings' own sin, weakness and wickedness. Raphael assumed the identity of a specific human in order to provide a testimony of faith within an actual family through his intervention on the behest of God and working of miracles through the faith of Tobiah who accepts the instruction of Raphael without even knowing he was an archangel sent by God.

Thus God sent Raphael to accompany Tobiah, appearing as a human, for a while, so that Raphael could show Tobiah how to alleviate the suffering of several faithful who were severely afflicted by both worldly events (his father's blindness who suffered business reversals and persecution, and who is the author of this book of the Bible) and the influence of a demon (who afflicted the woman who would become the wife of Tobiah).

Some who read this book err in two opposite opinions. One extreme is to think this book is not historical because it contains many techniques of storytelling, including maxims of wisdom and piety, and links to folklore. That is an error because the events in this book did take place, and the author was inspired by the Holy Spirit to put the events into a story context that all could understand. The other extreme is non-believers who hear about this book and the visit by Raphael and thus conclude that this is "evidence" that "step in's" (occultists' phrase to describe possession) occurs regularly by "angels" or "aliens" or whatever. How they go from one example in one family in one situation to thinking this book validates their nutty and dangerous ideas is beyond me, but that is the temptation and weakness of human false prophets.

Anyway, you can trust that what is in this book is true, did actually happen, and did so that one and only time in order to leave a testimony of how God wants people to work through problems using their own hands, based on faith and inspiration. Thus Raphael gives to Tobiah all the knowledge that he needs to expel the demon and cure his father, pointing out to him the things he must do, but allowing Tobiah to do them himself through his own faith, all the while not knowing he is being guided by an angel until Raphael reveals his identity at the end of his mission with Tobiah.

By the way, here is the interesting history of the documentation of this book, as explained in my NAB Catholic Bible Personal Study Edition:

Written in Aramaic, the original of the book was lost for centuries.
The Greek translation, existing in three different recensions, is our primary source.
In 1955, fragments of the book in Aramaic and in Hebrew were recovered from Cave IV at Qumran.
These texts are in substantial agreement with the Greek recension that has served as the basis for the present translation.

In other words, there were only three examples of this book in existance, all of them in Greek (and thus they were ancient translations of the original, which was lost). Biblical scholars trusted in the Greek translations that existed and their trust was rewarded by finding fragments of the older versions (in Aramaic and Hebrew), thus finding that the latter Greek was accurate and true to the original writing of this book. That must have been a great moment for the Biblical scholars involved in this discovery, part of the decades long research into what is called the "Dead Sea Scrolls." I am old enough to remember the incredible excitement when they were discovered, validating entire books of the Bible.

Here's a good general information link on the Qumran location:

September 29 is the Feast Day of Michael, Gabriel and Raphael, Archangels.

Come, let us worship the Lord in the company of his angels.

Let us join the angels in praising the Lord, as the cherubim and seraphim sing: Holy, holy, holy.

Angels of the Lord, sing praise to the Lord forever.

All the angels in heaven praise you, O Lord, and with one voice they say: To you we owe our hymn of praise, O God.

Truly I say to you: You will see the heavens open up, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.

You commanded your angels to guard us in all our ways
-keep us from sin as you lead us in your path this day.

Father, the angels stand for ever before your face,
-nourish in us a never-failing hope of coming at last into your presence.

Your children will be like the angels in heaven,
-grant us chastity in both mind and body.

Send Michael, the prince of the heavenly hosts, to the aid of your people.

Your majesty is praised above the heavens, O King of the angels.

From the hand of the angel incense rose
-in the presence of the Lord.

(selections from the Christian Prayer book, Liturgy of the Hours, for this day).