Weekly letter from St Luke's - 9 September 2020
Dear Parish Friends
One of the benefits of the Anglican tradition of Morning and Evening Prayer is that one systematically reads through much of the bible, rather than just jumping around. This means that we get to hear some passages that never make it into the Sunday lectionary. In the last couple of weeks, at Evening Prayer, we have been reading the books of Tobit and Judith.
Maybe you haven’t heard of these books. These are two of the books that, in Protestant bibles, are included in the Apocrypha, which are books that are found in the Septuagint (the Greek version of the Hebrew Scriptures), but not in the Hebrew texts used by the Jewish Rabbis. In one of the foundational documents of the Anglican Church, the thirty-nine articles, these books are stated that they are “read for example of life and instruction of manners; but yet [the church] doth…not apply them to establish any doctrine” (Article VI). So still worth reading and, as those who joined with me in Evening Prayer have found, brought some insights.
The introduction to the book of Tobit in my Oxford Annotated NRSV describes it as “a combination of ethical exhortation, prayers and doxologies with broad humour, a rollicking plot and vivid characters.” The story is as complex and outlandish as a Shakespearean comedy! I do encourage you to have a read (if you don’t have a bible with the Apocryphal books, they are easily found on the web. See for instance: https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Tobit+1&version=NRSVA). Watch out in particular for the angel Raphael in disguise. Everything is resolved at the end of the story; Tobit regains his sight (lost by an encounter with a bird with an unfortunate aim), and his son gets married to his kinswoman Sarah (who was rescued from an amorous demon who killed her previous seven husbands). Tellingly Tobit acknowledges that it was God who had worked through all that had happened, the bad and the good, and brought them to the time of rejoicing. He and his wife had not ceased from prayer, even in the darkest parts of the story.
When Raphael reveals himself as the agent of God, he echoes what Tobit had said and reminds us all of the response that as recipients of God’s grace we are driven to give:
Bless God and acknowledge him in the presence of all the living for the good things he has done for you. Bless and sing praise to his name. With fitting honour, declare to all people the deeds of God. (Tobit 12:6)
We find it easy to sing praises when the time of rejoicing has come, but more challenging is to do this at times when we have not seen the end of the story. We need to remember that God is working throughout these dark times in ways that we might not easily see. Maybe there is an angel in disguise in your life. As the writer to the Hebrews reminds us:
Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it. (Hebrews 12:2)
With blessings for the week ahead.
Yours in Christ