Tuesday, May 29, 2007

heart, liver, and gall

Michael Barber has an awesome post today that discusses Pentecost in its Old Testament context. It gave me additional insight into what I was thinking yesterday when reading Tobit. The story of Tobias and Sarah is totally a parable of Christ and the Church, but I've completely skipped over the fact that the book is framed by the festival of Pentecost at the start of ch. 2 as Michael points out.

Tobit 2
1: When I arrived home and my wife Anna and my son Tobias were restored to me, at the feast of Pentecost, which is the sacred festival of the seven weeks, a good dinner was prepared for me and I sat down to eat.
2: Upon seeing the abundance of food I said to my son, "Go and bring whatever poor man of our brethren you may find who is mindful of the Lord, and I will wait for you."
3: But he came back and said, "Father, one of our people has been strangled and thrown into the market place."
4: So before I tasted anything I sprang up and removed the body to a place of shelter until sunset.
5: And when I returned I washed myself and ate my food in sorrow.
6: Then I remembered the prophecy of Amos, how he said, "Your feasts shall be turned into mourning, and all your festivities into lamentation." And I wept.

This gives important dimension to the story that unfolds. Tobit is celebrating Pentecost according to the law with the anxious anticipation for what is promised in Jeremiah 31:33 and Ezekiel 36:24-28, but he is drawn out of that earnest hope by the reality of sin in the world - the reality that the Spirit does not dwell in the hearts of men. This internal dwelling of the Spirit is no doubt signified by the use of leavened bread in the Jewish Pentecost festival. That is also key in the use of unleavened bread for the Eucharist, since the yeast of the Holy Spirit is given to us from the Resurrected Jesus - but not before giving it up, and then reclaiming it in glory.

John 19
30: When Jesus had received the vinegar, he said, "It is finished"; and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.
John 20
22: And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit.

And it is truly yeast for the milled wheat of our mortal existence, as Paul says:

1 Corinthians 5
7: Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our paschal lamb, has been sacrificed.
8: Let us, therefore, celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth

We must live and appear as unleavened so that there is no competition within us for the leaven that comes from the Holy Spirit. But even as we live and appear unleavened, Pentecost (and the sacrament of Confirmation) enact a reality of fulfillment that remains hidden to everything but faith as long as Christ's glory remains veiled to the world.

Micheal points out that in Acts 2 Peter talks about Pentecost in eschatological terms - as if Christ had returned. In a very real way he had, for at Pentecost, his body on earth - the Church - was sacramentally established. This is where the beautiful connection with Tobit comes in. Tobit, a just man, has been afflicted with suffering a la Job. He prays for the Lord to remove these burdens or release him from this world as Job does AND as David does in Psalm 22 in words ultimately written to be prayed from the cross. At the same time 7 men had died on their wedding night while seeking to consummate their union with Raguel's daughter Sarah.


Tobit 3
7: On the same day, at Ecbatana in Media, it also happened that Sarah, the daughter of Raguel, was reproached by her father's maids,
8: because she had been given to seven husbands, and the evil demon Asmodeus had slain each of them before he had been with her as his wife. So the maids said to her, "Do you not know that you strangle your husbands? You already have had seven and have had no benefit from any of them.
9: Why do you beat us? If they are dead, go with them! May we never see a son or daughter of yours!"
10: When she heard these things she was deeply grieved, even to the thought of hanging herself. But she said, "I am the only child of my father; if I do this, it will be a disgrace to him, and I shall bring his old age down in sorrow to the grave.
11: So she prayed by her window and said, "Blessed art thou, O Lord my God, and blessed is thy holy and honored name for ever. May all thy works praise thee for ever.
12: And now, O Lord, I have turned my eyes and my face toward thee.
13: Command that I be released from the earth and that I hear reproach no more.
14: Thou knowest, O Lord, that I am innocent of any sin with man,
15: and that I did not stain my name or the name of my father in the land of my captivity. I am my father's only child, and he has no child to be his heir, no near kinsman or kinsman's son for whom I should keep myself as wife. Already seven husbands of mine are dead. Why should I live? But if it be not pleasing to thee to take my life, command that respect be shown to me and pity be taken upon me, and that I hear reproach no more."
16: The prayer of both was heard in the presence of the glory of the great God.

So the righteous man and the righteous daughter are both seeking the mercy of God. God sends the archangel Raphael to lead Tobit's son to the house of Raguel where he will take Sarah from the demon and join with her in marriage, which results in a wealth of liberating grace for both families. There's all sorts of sacramental imagery with the fish and smoke and restoration of sight to the blind. But above all there is the typological representation of the Church. God's people have been freed from the clutches of Satan by the union Christ. This marriage was consummated on the cross and our new life in the Spirit was proclaimed at Pentecost. And though that is the true reality of the situation, our full understanding of it will not come until the film is removed from our eyes.

Tobit 11
1: After this Tobias went on his way, praising God because he had made his journey a success. And he blessed Raguel and his wife Edna. So he continued on his way until they came near to Nineveh.
2: Then Raphael said to Tobias, "Are you not aware, brother, of how you left your father?
3: Let us run ahead of your wife and prepare the house.
4: And take the gall of the fish with you." So they went their way, and the dog went along behind them.
5: Now Anna sat looking intently down the road for her son.
6: And she caught sight of him coming, and said to his father, "Behold, your son is coming, and so is the man who went with him!"
7: Raphael said, "I know, Tobias, that your father will open his eyes.
8: You therefore must anoint his eyes with the gall; and when they smart he will rub them, and will cause the white films to fall away, and he will see you."
9: Then Anna ran to meet them, and embraced her son, and said to him, "I have seen you, my child; now I am ready to die." And they both wept.
10: Tobit started toward the door, and stumbled. But his son ran to him
11: and took hold of his father, and he sprinkled the gall upon his father's eyes, saying, "Be of good cheer, father."
12: And when his eyes began to smart he rubbed them,
13: and the white films scaled off from the corners of his eyes.

This is similar to Paul's experience:

Acts 9
8: Saul arose from the ground; and when his eyes were opened, he could see nothing; so they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus.
9: And for three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank.
10: Now there was a disciple at Damascus named Anani'as. The Lord said to him in a vision, "Anani'as." And he said, "Here I am, Lord."
11: And the Lord said to him, "Rise and go to the street called Straight, and inquire in the house of Judas for a man of Tarsus named Saul; for behold, he is praying,
12: and he has seen a man named Anani'as come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight."
13: But Anani'as answered, "Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to thy saints at Jerusalem;
14: and here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call upon thy name."
15: But the Lord said to him, "Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel;
16: for I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name."
17: So Anani'as departed and entered the house. And laying his hands on him he said, "Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on the road by which you came, has sent me that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit."
18: And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes and he regained his sight. Then he rose and was baptized

The message of Pentecost - as with the book of Tobit, and the story of Paul's conversion - is that Christ has already made "all things new" but that we must search for, discover, and be remade by the Spirit as living organisms that grow and develop in the fullness of time.

No comments: