03Jun 3 June, 2013. Monday of the Ninth Week

Tob 1:1ff. Living in exile far from home, Tobit shows compassion for his neighbours.

Mk 12:1ff. The wicked tenants kill the vineyard-owner’s son, but justice is restored.

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.

Adapting to a foreign land

There is a slender thread linking Tobit 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 in a recklessly selfish way because of God’s lengthy absence. In practice we need a commonsense guiding principle as in the book of Tobit, where religion is blended with everyday life, where old traditions are renewed to provide support and perseverance. In the story, God responds to Tobit’s persistent faith. This book can be read as a religious novel, where the crucial question is not “Did it really happen so?” but rather, “What is its religious message?” This message is what we need to find. The inspired author used the story form, figures of speech, the setting of the Assyrian exile, lines from the prophets and from the Book of Proverbs, to say that even the tragic and baffling turns of life can lead to a happy ending.

The gospel also deals with 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 told this parable, he had in mind the familiar text: “The stone rejected by the builders has become the keystone of the structure.” This verse from Ps 118:22 states that God is always faithful and will choose even the least likely person or the most neglected talent, and turn it into the keystone of the new life. Christians later applied this text to 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 a novel, draws our admiration. Who will not admire the person who risks his own security and peace in order to give a decent burial to his murdered fellow-exile? The gospel too carries the fundamentally optimistic message that out of disaster good can come. Jesus, the stone rejected by the builders, is the bedrock and keystone of our lives. If we are founded and rooted in him, God will build us a peaceful home on earth and our eternal dwelling hereafter.