Commentary on the Gospel of
TV viewers from the USA in the early 1960’s may recall a popular series entitled The Twilight Zone. The show focused on some unusual story lines which had a touch of the preternatural (if not the supernatural) about them. They were strange and bizarre tales of the unusual. Our first reading for today, part of the story of Tobiah and his future wife, Sarah, might be a candidate for one of the episodes of the Twilight Zone.
Tobiah, accompanied by the angel Raphael, comes to the dwelling of Raguel, Sarah’s father, and is warmly received. Tobiah asks for Sarah’s hand in marriage and Raguel joyously agrees to his proposal of marriage.
But then he tells Tobiah a tale that would shiver the boots of most people; Sarah has been married seven times before and on each occasion the new husband died after the first night spent with Sarah. How strange and bizarre is that? She is perfect (thus the number 7) in losing husbands the day after the wedding!
Raguel tells Tobiah that he must “love her, and she is your beloved. She is yours today and forever after” (gulp!). Imagine the grief and fear that must surround Sarah as she enters her eighth marriage covenant. Is the same pattern as the seven other men to be repeated or will this time reverse the lengthy series of negative events that happened to her? And how certain was Tobiah of his prospects after he heard Raguel’s troubling story of premature deaths?
Tobiah suggests that Sarah and he pray to God and beg for his mercy and “grant us deliverance. Call down your mercy on me and her, and allow us to live together to a happy old age.” Thankfully their prayer was answered.
The beautiful and consoling story of Tobiah and Sarah reminds us of God’s merciful relationship with us (us all and us individually). It calls us to put the focus properly upon God and not on the tragic past events that Sarah endured before she met Tobiah. This is a story of true love; the kind of love that trusts and invites us to put ourselves in the healing hands of a good and gracious God.
That love is what Jesus refers to in the section of Mark’s gospel for today. A scribe asks Jesus which is “the first of all commandments”. Jesus looks into the storehouse of the Hebrew Bible and puts together two verses as his answer to the scribe. “You shall love the Lord your God and with all your soul, with all your strength.” And the Second is like it “you shall love your neighbor as yourself." He stresses that no other commandment is greater than these.
The scribe recognizes the profound truth of what Jesus says to answer his question. “It is worth more than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.” Jesus has opened the eyes of the scribe to look deeply into ways that we approach God. And by informing the scribe, Jesus is also forming us in the inviting love flowing from God that seeks responses both to God and to our neighbor. A broad and inclusive call to love indeed.
We can ask ourselves how we respond to this beautiful call to love. Tobiah and Sarah clearly got the message and expressed it in their prayer to the glory of God. The call to love is constant and pervasive: it is a response to God’s love and mercy as Tobiah and Sarah’s trust seeks to make that compassionate love of God come alive in their loving each other – over an entire lifetime.
Thank you, compassionate God, and sustain us as your love bears fruit in the contours of our human lives today.