The revised Lectionary expanded the size of the little-used Tobit 7 reading. It’s not usually a successful strategy with a future father-in-law to refuse to eat until he consents to the marriage.
We covered a lot of the backstory in last night’s post. Tobiah was originally sent on this journey because his blind father was unable to travel. Raguel, Edna, and their daughter Sarah greet their distant relative with affection, and are genuinely grieved at Tobit’s misfortune. Hospitality for guests is one of the many virtues pictured in this story.
This reading gives us a view into the wedding liturgy as practiced by Jews in exile. It was a family affair, with a marriage ritual both religious and legal presided over by an elder, in this case, Sarah’s father. The value of family, especially as it was the locus for the agreement to marriage, not the civil authorities, is also underscored by the affection and honesty shared by these people who had never before met.
Raphael and Tobiah entered the house of Raguel and greeted him. Raguel sprang up and kissed Tobiah, shedding tears of joy. But when he heard that Tobit had lost his eyesight, he was grieved and wept aloud. He said to Tobiah: “My child, God bless you! You are the son of a noble and good father. But what a terrible misfortune that such a righteous and charitable man should be afflicted with blindness!” He continued to weep in the arms of his kinsman Tobiah. His wife Edna also wept for Tobit; and even their daughter Sarah began to weep.
Afterward, Raguel slaughtered a ram from the flock and gave them a cordial reception. When they had bathed and reclined to eat, Tobiah said to Raphael, “Brother Azariah, ask Raguel to let me marry my kinswoman Sarah.”
Raguel overheard the words; so he said to the boy: “Eat and drink and be merry tonight, for no man is more entitled to marry my daughter Sarah than you, brother. Besides, not even I have the right to give her to anyone but you, because you are my closest relative. But I will explain the situation to you very frankly. I have given her in marriage to seven men, all of whom were kinsmen of ours, and all died on the very night they approached her. But now, son, eat and drink. I am sure the Lord will look after you both.”
Tobiah answered, “I will eat or drink nothing until you set aside what belongs to me.”
Raguel said to him: “I will do it. She is yours according to the decree of the Book of Moses. Your marriage to her has been decided in heaven! Take your kinswoman from now on you are her love, and she is your beloved. She is yours today and ever after. And tonight, son, may the Lord of heaven prosper you both. May he grant you mercy and peace.”
Then Raguel called his daughter Sarah, and she came to him. He took her by the hand and gave her to Tobiah with the words: “Take her according to the law. According to the decree written in the Book of Moses she is your wife. Take her and bring her back safely to your father. And may the God of heaven grant both of you peace and prosperity.”
He then called her mother and told her to bring a scroll, so that he might draw up a marriage contract stating that he gave Sarah to Tobiah as his wife according to the decree of the Mosaic law. Her mother brought the scroll, and he drew up the contract, to which they affixed their seals. Afterward they began to eat and drink.
I mentioned that line about Tobit’s refusal to eat or drink, but the scripture scholar Irene Nowell sees this as the turning point for the young Tobiah. Up till now, he has been a passive character: obedient to his father and then to his travelling guide. No wonder he is depicted as a boy. Now he stands up for himself as an adult man in his culture would do.
When would I recommend this reading? When a preacher could draw out the themes of family and hospitality while resisting the cheap laughs of an attempted hunger strike. A couple with an appreciation for ritual and tradition might choose this Scripture. It’s not an easy reading; you have to delve deeply to get to the important material here.