Year 1 - Week 42 (June 20 - 26)

Day 1 (Monday)

Tobit 2:1 - 3:17

Last time we read the first chapter of Tobit, and saw how he was taken into captivity when Israel was given over to the Assyrians, and how he remained faithful throughout every circumstance in his life, even when doing so brought consequences. He had to flee when the Assyrian king was trying to kill him for burying other Jews that had been killed and left lying in the streets or refuse heaps, and then was able to return when a new king took the throne. This is where our story picks up today.

The Charitable Tobit Becomes Blind

1 When I arrived at my house, my wife Anna and my son Tobias were given back to me. It was the Feast of Pentecost, which is the holy feast of the seven weeks. A good dinner was prepared for me, so I sat down at the table to eat. 2 When I saw the abundance of meat, I said to my son, “Go and bring whomever you may find of our needy brethren who are mindful of the Lord. Behold, I will wait for you.” 3 But he came back and said, “O father, one of our people was strangled and thrown into the marketplace.” 4 So before I even tasted anything, I jumped up and carried the corpse into a room until sunset. 5 Then I returned, bathed myself, and ate my bread in sorrow. 6 Then I remembered the prophecy of Amos, how he said,

“Your feasts will be turned into mourning,
And all your gladness into a song of grief.”

So I wept.

7 When the sun went down, I departed, and after digging a grave, I buried him. 8 My neighbors laughed at me and said, “He is no longer afraid to be put to death for doing such a thing. He ran away before, and now, behold, he is burying the dead again.” 9 On the same night that I buried him, I returned home. But since I was defiled, I slept by the wall of the courtyard with my face uncovered. 10 However, I did not see the sparrows on the wall, for while my eyes were open the sparrows discharged their droppings into my eyes, and they became white films in my eyes. I went to physicians, but they could not help me. Then Ahikar supported me until he left for Elymais.

11 Then my wife Anna worked for hire at what women do. 12 She would send her work to the owners and they would pay her. On one occasion they paid her wages and also gave her a small goat. 13 But when she returned to me, it began to bleat. So I said to her, “Where did this goat come from? Is it not stolen? Return it to the owners, for it is unlawful to eat what is stolen.” 14 But she replied, “It was given to me as a gift. It was in addition to my wages.” But I did not believe her, telling her to return it to its owners. I blushed in embarrassment for her sake. So she answered and said to me, “Are your acts of charity and righteous deeds lawful? Behold, you are a know-it-all!”

Tobit's Prayer

1 Then I wept in my sorrow, and with pain I prayed, saying: 2 “O Lord, You are righteous. So too are all Your works. All Your ways are mercy and truth. Your judgments are true and just forever. 3 Remember me and look upon me with favor. Do not punish me for my sins and my ignorance, nor those sins of my fathers which they committed against You. 4 Because they disobeyed Your commands, so You gave us as spoil, captivity and death. You made us a byword of disgrace among all the nations in which we were scattered.
5 Now Your judgments concerning my sins are many and they are true, because I did them, and so did my fathers. For we did not keep Your commandments. Indeed we did not walk in truth before You. 6 Now do with me as is best before You. Command that my spirit be taken up, so I may be released and become soil, since it is better for me to die than to live. For I have heard false insults, and there is much sorrow within me. Command that I be freed from distress to now enter into the eternal place. Do not turn Your face away from me.”

Sarah in Ecbatana

7 On the same day, in Ecbatana of Media, Sarah, the daughter of Raguel, happened to be insulted by her father's maids. 8 She was married to seven husbands, but before they could be with her as a wife, Asmodeus, the evil demon, killed them. So they said to her, “Do you not recollect that you strangled these husbands? You have already had seven husbands, but you received no profit from any of them. 9 Therefore, why punish us? If they are dead, go with them. May we never see a son or daughter of yours.” 10 When she heard this, she was so distressed that she considered hanging herself. But she said, “I am the only one of my father. If I do this, it will be a disgrace to him, and I will bring down his old age with sorrow into Hades.”11 So she prayed by her window and said:

Sarah's Prayer

“Blessed are You, O Lord my God. Blessed is Your holy and precious name unto the ages. May all Your works bless You forever. 12 Now, O Lord, I offer myself completely to You. 13 Command that I be released from the land, that I may not hear such disgrace any more. 14 O Lord, You know that I am innocent of any sin with a man. 15 I have not defiled my name nor the name of my father in the land of my captivity. I am my father's only offspring. He has no other child who will be his heir. Neither does he have a brother close at hand, nor an adopted son that I might keep myself as a wife to him. Seven of my husbands have already perished. What should I live for? But if it does not seem good to You to kill me, command that I be looked upon with favor, and that mercy be shown to me, so I may no longer hear disgrace.”

16 The prayer of both was heard in the presence of the great glory of Raphael, 17 and he was sent to heal the two of them: to remove the white films from Tobit; to give Sarah of Raguel to Tobias the son of Tobit as a wife; and to bind Asmodeus the evil demon, for it fell upon Tobias to inherit her. At that same time Tobit returned and entered his house, and Sarah of Raguel came down from her upstairs room.

Discussion questions:

1) What did you notice in today’s reading? What surprised you or what was memorable to you? (Leader should note that we see two things here. The first is the further heightening of the tension we started to see last week. Tobit and Sarah are both righteous, and seem to be innocent of any great sin themselves…but they are suffering anyway. This is a common reality for us to see and experience in this world. The second point, and the more important point, is how they each respond to this suffering. Both of them pray, turning the matter over to God. They speak honestly, with a pain that is raw and evident, but they confess that the suffering they are receiving is just, both as a punishment for the sins of the people, and their own particular sins. Then they both entrust themselves to God, accepting the suffering, but asking for vindication, for mercy, or at least for an end. And it is therefore especially important that we see God acting immediately to answer their prayer. We can see an example of how we should pray here in their two prayers. First, by confession of sin. Second, by entrusting ourselves to God’s will. Third, by asking for mercy. This is what repentance looks like; this is what our relationship with God should look like. You may notice, too, that this is exactly how the prayers of the Church are written. Finally, we should note what the names mean. Asmodeus is uncertain, but may mean something like "the destroyer." Raphael means "God heals," and he is one of the seven archangels.)

2) What do we learn about God in this reading?

3) What do we learn about human beings in this reading?

4) What do you find difficult about this reading? Is there anything confusing about it, or anything that you dislike? (This is an open question, as always. )

5) Does this reading make you think that you need to change anything in your life?

Day 2 (Wednesday)

Letter of St. Ignatius to the Ephesians - 2

Last time we began to read the letter of St. Ignatius to the Ephesians. He wrote this letter from Smyrna, where he had been visited by a delegation from the Church in Ephesus, led by the bishop of Ephesus, Onesimus. He began his letter by congratulating the church in Ephesus on what a pious and faithful bishop they had, and continues here by urging them to obey him, to remain in active communion with their bishop.

Obedience to the Bishop

I am not commanding you, as though I were someone important. For even though I am in chains for the sake of the Name, I have not yet been perfected in Jesus Christ. For now I am only beginning to be a disciple, and I speak to you as my fellow students. For I need to be trained by you in faith, instruction, endurance, and patience. But since love does not allow me to be silent concerning you, I have therefore taken the initiative to encourage you, so that you may run together in harmony with the mind of God. For Jesus Christ, our inseparable life, is the mind of the Father, just as the bishops appointed throughout the world are in the mind of Christ.

Thus it is proper for you to run together in harmony with the mind of the bishop, as you are in fact doing. For your council of presbyters, which is worthy of its name and worthy of God, is attuned to the bishop as strings to a lyre. Therefore in your unanimity and harmonious love Jesus Christ is sung. You must join this chorus, every one of you, so that by being harmonious in unanimity and taking your pitch from God you may sing in unison with one voice through Jesus Christ to the Father, in order that he may both hear you and, on the basis of what you do well, acknowledge that you are members of his Son. It is, therefore, advantageous for you to be in perfect unity, in order that you may always have a share in God.

For if I in a short time experienced such fellowship with your bishop, which was not merely human but spiritual, how much more do I congratulate you who are united with him, as the church is with Jesus Christ and as Jesus Christ is with the Father, so that all things may be harmonious in unity. Let no one be misled: if anyone is not within the sanctuary, he lacks the bread of God. For if the prayer of one or two has such power, how much more that of the bishop together with the whole church! Therefore whoever does not meet with the congregation thereby demonstrates his arrogance and has separated himself, for it is written: “God opposes the arrogant.” Let us, therefore, be careful not to oppose the bishop, in order that we may be obedient to God.

Furthermore, the more anyone observes that the bishop is silent, the more one should fear him. For everyone whom the Master of the house sends to manage his own house we must welcome as we would the one who sent him. It is obvious, therefore, that we must regard the bishop as the Lord himself. Now Onesimus himself highly praises your orderly conduct in God, reporting that you all live in accordance with the truth and that no heresy has found a home among you. Indeed, you do not so much as listen to anyone unless he speaks truthfully about Jesus Christ.

Discussion questions:

1) What did you notice in today’s reading? What surprised you or what was memorable to you? (Leader should note that Ignatius sees the active Communion of the Saints, each Christian’s participation in the communal and sacramental life of the Church, as the most important thing for a Christian to do…and that he sees it as impossible to do this without living in obedience to the bishop. He makes a few arguments to support this. The latter one is simply that the bishop is the direct representative of Christ, and that therefore, we need to treat the bishop like we would treat Christ Himself. The former is that the Church is called to operate like a musical chorus, and that a musical chorus requires a director, and the bishop is that director; so it is impossible for the Church to do and be what it is called to do and be unless everyone is in perfect harmony with the bishop. It is important to note, as well, that Ignatius doesn’t make this argument on the basis of his own authority…he speaks humbly, as one still learning, but also with certainty, as one describing something that is universally known to all. This reflects, then, a truth that was clearly established even at this early date, but also a struggle and challenge that has existed in the Church from the beginning.)

2) What do we learn about God in this reading?

3) What do we learn about human beings in this reading?

4) What do you find difficult about this reading? Is there anything confusing about it, or anything that you dislike? (This is an open question, as always. )

5) Does this reading make you think that you need to change anything in your life?

Day 3 (Friday)

Luke 15:1-34

In Luke chapter 14, which we read last week, the Lord spoke in several different ways about the importance of being faithful to Him, of following Him and leaving every other loyalty behind, of making the Lord and the Gospel the highest priority of life. He didn’t sugarcoat what it meant to follow Him either, but urged everyone who was listening to Him to count the cost, to prepare themselves to trade earth for heaven, and to follow Him. This time we will see what happens when the religious authorities notice who has been listening to this preaching and putting it into action.

A Warning against Hypocrisy

15 Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. 2 And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

3 So he told them this parable: 4 “Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? 5 When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. 6 And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ 7 Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.

The Parable of the Lost Coin

8 “Or what woman having ten silver coins, if she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? 9 When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’ 10 Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

The Parable of the Prodigal and His Brother

11 Then Jesus said, “There was a man who had two sons. 12 The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.’ So he divided his property between them. 13 A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and traveled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living. 14 When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs. 16 He would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything.

17 But when he came to himself he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! 18 I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.”’ 20 So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. 21 Then the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ 22 But the father said to his slaves, ‘Quickly, bring out a robe—the best one—and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; 24 for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!’ And they began to celebrate.

25 “Now his elder son was in the field; and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 He called one of the slaves and asked what was going on. 27 He replied, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.’ 28 Then he became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him. 29 But he answered his father, ‘Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!’ 31 Then the father said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. 32 But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.’”

Discussion Questions

1) What did you notice in today’s reading? What surprised you or what was memorable to you? (Leader should point out that Jesus has been speaking so far to the conflict between what we tend to think is important in life - food, clothing, shelter, family, money, & power - and what is truly important, that is, the Kingdom of God. In these passages, He shifts gears, and begins to speak about the difference between how those who follow Him appear to the world - as a deplorable crowd of sinners and vagrants - and how God sees them, as precious vessels of grace once lost, but now restored to their proper place. In this shift, we are able to see that the reality of the Kingdom of God is not just that punishment is coming, and we need to act to be saved from it. More importantly, the love and glory of God is offered to us, and we need to act to receive it. The point is not just to be saved from judgment, although judgment will indeed come upon those who refuse the call of the Lord. Rather, the call of the Lord is to restoration and wholeness and love and everlasting life. This is what we see depicted in these parables of the Prodigal Son, and of the missing coin and the lost sheep.)

2) What do we learn about God in this story?

3) What do we learn about human beings in this story?

4) What do you find difficult about this story? Is there anything confusing about it, or anything that you dislike? (This is an open question, as always.).

5) Does this story make you think that you need to change anything in your life?