If this is your first visit, please see my introduction to these Lenten readings.
15 February. Tobit chapters 5-7
If yesterday’s opening chapters suggested that this is a work of fiction, today’s leaves us in no doubt. In real life people do not meet angels posing as their distant relatives, nor have their feet swallowed by a fish (cue the music to “Jaws”), nor find that the offal of the same fish is a cure for blindness and demon-possession. The storyline may be a bit crude compared with today’s novels, but don’t forget this was written over 2000 years ago – it certainly compares well with the likes of the tales of Andersson or Grimm!
What seems equally strange to our Western culture is the idea that a marriage might not only be arranged between a boy and girl from the same extended family, but put into practice immediately. No period of betrothal, no plans for a family wedding, not even a dowry: Tobias and Sarah are introduced, have a marriage contract drawn up, a wedding feast in her father’s house, and are sent off to consummate the marriage, all in one evening. Again, this is probably exaggerated for literary effect rather than representing the actual culture of the time.
If there is a lesson to be learnt from this, perhaps it is in the way that Tobias is told to accept Sarah not only as a wife but as a sister – “From now you are her brother and she is your sister. She is given to you from today for ever” (7:11). In obvious ways, the relationship a man has with his wife must be very different from that with his sister, but the point being made is that the relationship forged in marriage is as unbreakable as that between siblings. Even if a marriage is not a happy one, there are still responsibilities that should not be denied, any more than the family ties between brother and sister. More positively, at its best the relationship between brother and sister can be easy-going, affectionate and mutually supportive, and so should a good marriage be.