Wednesday, June 6, 2007

A gracious giver should receive with as much grace.

Memorial of Saint Boniface, bishop and martyr
Mass Readings:
Tobit 2:9-14
Mark 12:13-17

Upfront let me say that the Book of Tobit is my all time favorite! Well, along with the Gospels. Tobit is for the most part overlooked. That is unfortunate. Tobit is a book that speaks to us about suffering, restoration and family. I believe that Tobit is easier to relate to than Job.

The Book of Job is beautifully written but I admit that I don't connect with Job. Job is a very wealthy, pious man who loses everything and is faced with questions of good vs. evil. Tobit is a poor, pious man who goes blind and faces the challenges of physical illness. I find that Tobit is more like people I meet everyday.

Tobit is a very holy man. Tobit is not only committed to his faith but to his people. However, Tobit is guided by charity and not merely letter of the law. Tobit is seen as an outsider. Tobit is willing to touch the dead and bury them. Instead of following complicated laws in order to remain "pure", he goes out, sees a need and does what is needed. He pays a price for his dedication and charity. Tobit is marked for execution by the king because he shows such respect to his people. King Sennacherib wanted the people he slew to merely be left to rot. Tobit could not stand for this. Tobit's love and respect for his fellows led him to lose his property and almost his life.

Yet Tobit must endure another hardship. His eyes become infected and he loses his sight. Tobit becomes despondent which is understandable. His wife, Anna, is the money maker for the family now and Tobit is feeling isolated. Anna's employer shows kindness and gives her a goat so that her family may have meat to eat. Tobit is incensed by this and believes that surely, out of their poverty, Anna stole it. Tobit is hard to convince. Perhaps his pride is in the way?

Anna finally has had enough and yells back. Tobit, for all of his generosity, is unable to receive an act of charity. Anna calls Tobit to account for all of his charity and why he cannot receive something good. Perhaps Tobit's charity was just to make himself feel better? Maybe his true character was that he had become dependant upon the feeling he got from being charitable and burying his kinfolk. He did wonderful things but were they for the right reason?

I believe that the scene from Tobit we just read is a call to us all. We are all connected as the Body of Christ and that means we help each other. For many, giving charity is okay but their mood changes if they are on the receiving end. It is hard to accept help when our pride gets in the way. Pride can cause us to miss out on some glorious moments of God's grace. As we give, we are to receive. A selfless giver will receive because others will recognize the charity of the other. Now that doesn't mean we look for anything in return for our acts of charity! Giving only out of the expectation of receiving is just as damaging as pride standing in the way of receiving.

I believe the core message in today's reading from Tobit is that we are called to care for one another. We take care of one another. We give and receive out of wanting to be the bearer of God's love. That means no agendas. When we can give and receive out of the desire to further God's will then we truly are blessed. Giving and receiving graciously and selflessly, I believe, opens our hearts to that grace so freely given by God in Jesus the Lord. Jesus gave with no expectation of return. Jesus received the goodness of others in thanksgiving. No agendas, just being in communion with one another. I think that is what Heaven will be like, giving and receiving the joys of God's love as we celebrate together the goodness of God.