Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Magical Fish

Rain has colored the day in these parts, starting early and continuing through the afternoon. I was two miles south on the beach when it started and dripping wet by the time I got home.

Reading to my new friend Angela this morning, she stopped me to ask if I had the Bible, and would I read the part about Tobias. I asked what book he figured in, but Angela didn’t know, so I looked through the front pages of The New English Bible with Apocrypha and found the book of Tobit third among the fifteen books of the Apocrypha. As it turns out, Tobias was the son of Tobit. Unfamiliar pages for me and a wonderful example of the Old Testament type of didactic storytelling. Full of metaphor and classic plot lines, The New English Bible translation tells a beautiful tale.

Tobit is righteous man living his life in obedience to God and doing good for others in all ways. Though he is an exiled Israelite living in the city of Nineveh, over the years of being there he has grown rich and attracted favor in the King's eye. Business has led Tobit to deposit a part of his wealth with another man in the eastern region of Media. Circumstances change, a new king comes to power and finding himself in disfavor, Tobit must go into hiding. Misfortune follows, one upon another and the years pass.

One night he sleeps beside a wall in his courtyard unaware of the sparrows nesting in the wall above him. During his sleep the sparrow droppings fall into his eyes and Tobit awakes to find himself blind. He prays long and hard over his accumulated misery, and God hearing his prayers sends the angel Raphael to cure Tobit of his blindness and other troubles.

Still blind, but full of hope in God’s care and protection, Tobit calls for his son Tobias and instructs him to prepare for a journey to Media. The son is to go and reclaim the money deposited there many years before. It is then that the angel Raphael appears to father and son as a fellow Israelite, offering to guide Tobias on his journey to Media.

And so the two, angel and son, set off for Media. In time, they stop to rest by the banks of the Tigris River and while Tobias bathes his feet in the water, a huge fish leaps from the water and tries to swallow the boy’s foot. The angel shouts, “Seize the fish and hold fast!” Tobias wrestles the huge fish onto land and Raphael directs him to cut the fish open and remove the gallbladder, heart and liver. The parts are preserved and the two continue on their way.

They receive great welcome in Media, and not only is the old business associate happy to return the money held over the years, but he also gives his beautiful daughter to Tobias in marriage. But the boy is warned that seven times the girl has married and seven times the bridegroom died. Raphael reassures Tobias, telling him the demon will flee the girl when he places the heart and liver of the great fish on the incense burner. And so it happens.

Returning to Nineveh with his bride and the ten talents of redeemed silver, Tobias greets his father and right away spreads the gall of that same fish onto his father’s eyes. The blindness falls away from his eyes, as do all of Tobit’s former miseries. They live many years in the happiness of God’s blessing, Tobit until the age of 112, and Tobias 117 years.

I learned later, after we stopped reading that Angela’s son is named Tobias, that being the reason she suddenly wanted to hear the story told in the Apocrypha.

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Oak Hill, Florida, United States
A longtime expat relearning the footwork of life in America