This post is part of a reflective Lenten series, originally published as Facebook posts on my personal account.
Lenten practice, day #12.
Reference: Tobit 12:1-22
At the end of the wedding celebrations, thankfully Tobit and Tobiah did not forget about their main man, Raphael, who’s still hangin’ out at their place. All things (hear: healings and miracles) considered, the two men decide that paying Raphael the amount they agreed on at the beginning was simply not enough.
Tobiah makes a pretty cool statement when he says of his new treasure, “It would not hurt me at all to give him half of the wealth he brought back with me.” Instead of looking at his new, ridiculously extravagant property as his own, Tobaih still sees it as a gift. Tobaih still sees his property as far above and beyond what he actually needs, and thus doesn’t lay claim to anything more than the minimum. Instead, he treats his surplus as a convenient pool to pull from in order to repay the kind deeds of his “cousin.”
(I’d like to point out here that the idea of angels as our “cousins” also has fascinating theological implications. We are not the same beings—certainly not, we are body and spirit, angels are simply spirit, etc—and we don’t have the same specific functions, but our final cause is the same: to worship, praise, and love God. Although Raphael’s explanation of “cousin” to Tobit and his family was first and foremost part of his disguise, it’s an interesting commentary, nonetheless! I wonder how the interactions between humans and angels will be in heaven (if there are any)?)
So Tobiah calls to Raphael and gives him half of his new possessions as wages for the trip he had agreed to take. To their surprise, Raphael pulls Tobit and Tobiah aside and gives what my translation titles an “exhortation”—very similar to the advice-packed talk Tobit gave Tobiah before sending him off on the journey. As you can imagine, Tobit and Tobaih (but especially Tobit) were confused—this cousin of theirs was essentially talking like a parent to even Tobit, his elder!
Confusion aside, Raphael’s advice is very practical and has a lot of value considering Raphael’s credentials as one of heavens seven archangels. He explains the importance of praising God (even more exaggerated in this time due to cultural and Jewish beliefs and traditions). He emphasizes that prayer and fasting are both very good—but almsgiving (actually going out and giving money to the poor or helping them in some practical, concrete way) is SO critical and important. He stresses that almsgiving makes recompense for sins, saves lives, and saves people from death (not the same thing).
Aaaannnd then comes the part where Raphael drops the “Oh, btw’s I’m an archangel…kthnxbai” bomb.
It’s really, really worth reading verses 11-15. They reveal such wonderful things about angels and heaven and our destiny! Every time I read this passage, these verses are, without a doubt, what stick out to me the most, so I have every intention of taking some time right now to unpack them:
“When you, Tobit, and Sarah prayed, it was I who presented and read the record of your prayer before the Glory of the Lord.” There are several amazing things here.
First of all, angels present our prayers before the Lord. If we ever believe that we’re speaking to God but he doesn’t hear us, think again—angels, the messengers of God, are personally responsible for making sure our prayers make it to his attention—as if God isn’t already absolutely dying to hear from us. This God loves his people so much, he gave them the ability to choose love on their own (free will) so that their love might mean that much more, and so that the relationship between God and man be that much more authentic. To preserve that same free will, then, God—no matter how much he’s dying to rush to our assistance and pick us up when we fall—patiently waits for us to choose to ask for that help. He’s absolutely dying to help us—loving us so much that he wants to drop everything and fix our problems instantly in a way that would absolutely blow or minds—but that same love (hear: his very nature) demands that he wait and allow us to meet his reaching hands. Instead of grabbing our hands and clenching them, he reaches out his open hand and waits for us to reach back. If we think for even a moment that God isn’t anxiously awaiting the prayers that the angels bring him, we are very, very mistaken. And that’s only the first amazing point in this verse!
The second amazing thing how God’s ever-powerful, ever-knowing, ever-present will is moving things in an incredible way. Raphael is the angel of healing. His very name means “God heals.” It was not mere coincidence, then, that Raphael would bring before the Lord the very prayers he was so suited to assist in answering. Even the angels are amazed and humbled at God’s flawless, everything-works-out-exactly-correctly plans!
This sentence speaks for itself, but is such a beautiful declaration, I almost choke up each time I read it:
“I am Raphael, one of the seven angels who enter and serve before the Glory of the Lord.”
This doesn’t need to be unpacked, and as I’m no angeologist I can only do so much, but let’s just take a second and marvel at the fact that God only needs SEVEN angels do bring prayers before him. Think about all of the billions and billions of people on the planet—each one a creation he knows in its entirety—many of them praying regularly, yet only seven angels are necessary to bring prayers before the Lord. I don’t fully understand how that works (probably something with being outside of time), but HOLY CRAP THAT’S COOL.
Of course, at this moment Tobit and Tobiah basically pass out with fear. (If you look at the history of the Old Testament, seeing an angel or seeing God himself usually was followed promptly by death. I won’t get into the logistics of why that is, but know that it’s not as morbid as it sounds. But it’s still enough to freak a brother out.)
How comforting are the angel’s words at this point (you can almost picture him laughing): “No need to fear; you are safe. Thank God now and forever!!” We fear God because he is SO big and SO wonderful and SO amazing we are nothing before him (among other reasons). But the healing angel smiles and says, “You are safe!!” Is there any safer place than in God’s presence? And is not His presence where his angels are? How ridiculous of us to be afraid in one of the safest places on Earth!
He then continues to emphasize that he himself had nothing to do with the healing—it was all God (hey Jesuit friends…AMDG, right?). Raphael only took part in it because it was God’s will for him to do so. He is as humbled as Tobit and Tobiah to be chosen as one of God’s precious creations! He is humbled to be able to be a channel of God’s peace—and he.is.an. ANGEL.
Goodness, guys, are you getting this? Do you see how ridiculously important and incredible this is?! How WONDERFUL this is?!
I also love how at this point, he gets into the logistics of what just happened because, hey, there are bound to be questions: “Even though you watched me eat and drink [things spirits are by nature incapable of], I did not really do so; what you were seeing was a vision.” How freaking ridiculously cool! Simultaneous and fully-integrated-into-the-envrinoment visions between at LEAST 10 people (count ‘em, and don’t forget the servants)!! That makes the apparitions of Our Lady of Lourdes look like they’re in 2D and black-and-white! She was (to my knowledge) rarely if ever touched and appeared to one person. But Raphel—an angel who is by nature not embodied, able to appear to and interact with over 10 people at the same time—goodness.
Then, of course, in typical heavenly fashion, Raphael tells them to write down what they have seen, and he skidaddles, ascending into heaven.
Man, this is cool.