07Mar Monday of Week Nine

Tob 1:1ff Living in exile away from the promised land. Tobit shows compassion for his neighbours.

Mark 12:1ff. The wicked tenants kill the vineyard-owner’s son; they are punished, and the vineyard given to others.

Surviving Abroad

Tobit was one of the last additions to the Old Testament, just as 2 Peter was to the New Testament. A common thread of spirituality seems to link them with the gospel parable for today: how to survive in a foreign land; how to react when religion or God has let us down. In today’s gospel, people think they can live recklessly and selfishly because of God’s lengthy apparent absence.

On Monday, the first day of the working week, we need the book of Tobit, where religion and everyday life blend harmoniously, where ancient traditions come alive for support and perseverance, where God responds to Tobit’s persistent faith. This book is rightly called a religious novel, where the crucial question is not, did it really happen? but rather, what is the religious message in the story? This message was the real motivation in the heart of the inspired author, who used the story form, figures of speech, and the ancient setting of the Assyrian exile, lines from the prophets and from the Book of Proverbs, to insist that even the tragic and baffling turns of life can lead to a happy ending.

The gospel anticipates just this kind of problem. The owner of the vineyard seems to have vanished, so the tenant farmers can live recklessly, even killing the owner’s son to seize total control of the property. When Jesus first spoke this parable, he had in mind the puzzling but familiar text: “The stone rejected by the builders has become the keystone of the structure.” This passage from Ps 118:22 states that God will always be faithful and will choose even the least likely person or the abandoned talent, and turn it into the keystone of the new life. Christians later reinterpreted this text to announce God’s transfer of his ancient promises to the gentile world after the fall of Jerusalem to the Romans in A.D. 66-70.

The story of Tobit, as charming and intriguing as any novel, can move the heart. Who will not love and admire the person who risks whatever is left of security and peace, to give honourable burial to his murdered and abandoned fellow-man? Second Peter instruct us still further in ethics as it links the virtues of piety, self-control, perseverance, faith and care for one’s neighbour. The gospel holds the fundamentally optimistic message that on the foundation of the least likely part of our character, God will build our peaceful home on earth and our eternal dwelling hereafter.

First Reading: Tobit 1:3; 2:1-8

I, Tobit, walked in the ways of truth and righteousness all the days of my life. I performed many acts of charity for my kindred and my people who had gone with me in exile to Nineveh in the land of the Assyrians.

During the reign of Esar-haddon I returned home, and my wife Anna and my son Tobias were restored to me. At our festival of Pentecost, which is the sacred festival of weeks, a good dinner was prepared for me and I reclined to eat. When the table was set for me and an abundance of food placed before me, I said to my son Tobias, “Go, my child, and bring whatever poor person you may find of our people among the exiles in Nineveh, who is wholeheartedly mindful of God, and he shall eat together with me. I will wait for you, until you come back.” So Tobias went to look for some poor person of our people. When he had returned he said, “Father!” And I replied, “Here I am, my child.” Then he went on to say, “Look, father, one of our own people has been murdered and thrown into the market place, and now he lies there strangled.” Then I sprang up, left the dinner before even tasting it, and removed the body from the square and laid it in one of the rooms until sunset when I might bury it. When I returned, I washed mysel and ate my food in sorrow. Then I remembered the prophecy of Amos, how he said against Bethel, “Your festivals shall be turned into mourning, and all your songs into lamentation.” And I wept.

When the sun had set, I went and dug a grave and buried him. And my neighbours laughed and said, “Is he still not afraid? He has already been hunted down to be put to death for doing this, and he ran away; yet here he is again burying the dead!”

Gospel: Mark 12:1-12

Then he began to speak to them in parables. “A man planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a pit for the wine press, and built a watchtower; then he leased it to tenants and went to another country. When the season came, he sent a slave to the tenants to collect from them his share of the produce of the vineyard. But they seized him, and beat him, and sent him away empty-handed. And again he sent another slave to them; this one they beat over the head and insulted. Then he sent another, and that one they killed. And so it was with many others; some they beat, and others they killed. He had still one other, a beloved son. Finally he sent him to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ But those tenants said to one another, ‘This is the heir; come, let us kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.’ So they seized him, killed him, and threw him out of the vineyard. What then will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and destroy the tenants and give the vineyrd to others. Have you not read this scrpture: ‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord’s doing, and it is amazing in our eyes’?”

When they realized that he had told this parable against them, they wanted to arrest him, but they feared the crowd. So they left him and went away.