Tobit and Raguel: Living with Shame

Tobit and Raguel: Living with Shame
Our faith teaches us that we shall live forever, that this life that we are currently living is but a prelude to eternal life with God. That tenet of our faith is not something that our ancestors came to understand until long after the human family had begun to inhabit this earth. Witness the characters of Tobit and Sarah in today's first reading from the Book of Tobit. Neither of them had been brought up in a faith that held this belief. For this people death was the end. So as we listen to the two of them pray today, we can only appreciate their desperation when we realize that they did not hope for something greater than life as they knew it. Both of them were victims of the engine that drove their society and culture; namely, the tension between shame and honor.

Tobit was shamed by the fact that even though he obeyed the commandments even when it put his life in peril, his blindness was thought of as a punishment from God. Raguel was shamed by the fact that her husbands, all seven of them, had died before they had had an opportunity to consummate their marriage. Both of these instances illustrate the "theology" of reciprocity. In other words, God rewards the just and punishes the sinner. Their situations were regarded by those who knew them as proof that they were guilty in the eyes of God.

The rewards that they receive at the end of this story (yes, it does have a happy ending) does not dispel, however, the notion that they had been punished for their sins. The rewards they receive simply testify to God's mercy and to their repentance. Not until Jesus bursts upon the scene is this notion of reciprocity destroyed once and for all. Jesus was not guilty of sin, yet he was humiliated by the manner of his death. His resurrection, however, testifies to the fact that he was not a sinner. It does just the opposite; it proves that bad things to happen to innocent and good people. It is simply part of the human condition in which we live; suffering and humiliation in the eyes of others is not tied to our individual sins. If they were, all men and women would suffer, all would live in ignominy. We are all sinners. We all deserve to be punished.

This is not, however, the way of God. Natural disasters such as the tornadoes that have ripped through the plain states and destroyed the lives of many are not a weapon used by God to punish. Despite those who preach this nonsense, the death and resurrection of Jesus proves this beyond a shadow of a doubt. All we can say about natural disasters is that they are part of our "desert" experience. Like the Israelites of old, we must spend time in the desert before crossing over into the Promised Land. God is Love. Nothing, in the words of St. Paul, can separate us from that love.

Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator


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