This post is part of a reflective Lenten series, originally published as Facebook posts on my personal account.
Lenten practice, day #8.
Reference: Tobit 8:1-21
It’s probably because of my fascination with angelology and demonology, but the expulsion of the demon from Sarah is SO COOL.
My Bible makes a very interesting note about the expulsion. When Tobiah puts the fish guts on the embers to create smoke, a note in the text points out that this probably seems “quaint” to us, but the author is deliberately trying to downplay the importance of the fish. Instead, most of the chapter is spent discussing Raphael’s pursuit of the demon, his binding, and the prayer that the newlyweds pray before going to bed for the first time together.
So if the fish isn’t important, why is it there at all? My conclusion is that it was there to comfort the lovers and assure them of what was unseen. In other words, the presence of the fish makes a fantastic point about the physical nature of sacraments. A sacrament is, by definition, something that makes visible what is invisible. When we are baptized, we are washed with water. It’s not because God can’t cleanse us himself and needs the erosive help of the universal solvent—it’s because as humans, it’s easy for us to doubt what we cannot see. God wants us to have as many chances to see him and acknowledge him as possible because that acknowledgement allows us to build a relationship with him. So when there is a sacrament such as baptism, and an extremely profound spiritual reality is being changed—that is, we are being claimed as children of God and anointed his heirs—God knows that just being like, “Yeah, trust me, it happened” won’t cut it. Humans are physical, visual, EMBODIED beings. We need physical reminders, and God is more than willing to provide those.
So, when Tobiah realized he would be basically marrying his fate and going to his death when he approached Sarah, Raphael’s explanation that the scent of the fish smoke would scare away the demon was clearly comforting. Was Raphael lying about that? I doubt it. The scents could very well affect the spiritual realm. But I guarantee Raphael didn’t NEED fish guts to send that demon running for the hills. The very presence of one of the most powerful archangels in the heavens would have been enough to freak out a being of the Dark. No, friends, the smoke was for the couple. It was a physical sign of an invisible reality and a tangible reminder to them that a change was occurring. Burning fish guts were—as strange as it sounds—essentially sacramental. It was God’s comforting reminder that they are being cared for and healing is taking place. (I’m sure it didn’t smell good, but at this point I don’t think either of them really cared about that.)
Perhaps more important than the chase of Raphael after the demon (and far more important than the fish guts) is the prayer of Tobiah over his bride. “My love,” he starts, using the same words as his parents and his new parents-in-law, and then he invites her to partake in a most intimate spiritual action with him: shared prayer, deep from the heart.
The prayer is beautiful—please read it! (Tobit 8:5-7) The emphasis at the end is SUCH an important distinction we need badly in our culture today. Referring to the woman he loves dearly and protects as a sister, he says, “Lord, you know that I take this wife of mine not because of lust, but for a noble purpose.” In the words of Inigo Montoya, “True love…you heard him! You cannot ask for a more noble cause than that.” This is not the mushy-gushy-head-over-heels-heart-racing, one-dimensional version of love that society goes on and on about. Love—TRUE love—is to will the good of the other. It is total self-sacrifice and self-gift. There is nothing more noble than that. Human love—human consummate love—is a reflection of the perfect divine love for us. God’s own love is reflected in the act that Tobiah is selflessly partaking in (remember, he thinks he’s going to die). And of course, God, seeing that love, has mercy!
The rest of the chapter is great and stuff, but nothing stands out to me as strongly as that. Leave it to Tobit—fish as a reminder of sacrament, death as a reminder of the human need for love, and prayer and sex as a reflection of the intimate relationship God calls us to with Him.
I’ll leave the rest of the chapter to you to lectio up. Thoughts?