Opening our eyes for a New Year

Reflection on a Liturgy for Peace for New Years Day (January 1)

By Greg Swiderski

The readings for this Sunday:

Numbers 6:22-27
Psalm 67:2-3, 5, 6, 8
Galatians 4:4-7
Luke 2:16-21

The full text of the readings can be found here.

This reflection is intended for a liturgy for Peace, and inspired by the Book of Tobit.

Some people "give up" on scripture because so much of it seems remote from their daily lives.

However, one book seems very real: Tobit.

Here's a brief summary: a pious Hebrew, lives among a foreign tribe. Yet he maintains his identity and performs corporal works of mercy including burying the dead. After being released from arrest for this he cannot contain himself (Could he be another patron of civil disobedience?). His neighbors worry. Tobit seems nonplussed; he bathes and falls asleep under a tree. Sparrows perch above him and their droppings blind him.

As so often happens, this physical malady affects his personal life; he and his wife get into an argument and she questions how genuine he will be now that he is being tested. Years pass...

He recalls that a relative owes him a debt. He sends their only son Tobiah to collect the money. What will happen to our only child, his wife worries. A mysterious stranger, Azariah, appears; an angel, Raphael (the name means God heals) in disguise. He accepts payment to accompany the young man.

At the same time another relative and family with an only child, a daughter Sarah, are experiencing their own trauma. Seven men have been engaged to Sarah; each has died in the wedding bed before the marriage can be consummated. An evil demon, Asmodeus, is haunting this celebratory bed.

Sarah gets in an argument with her maid; the distraught child considers suicide.

Back to Tobiah: he, Raphael, and his dog begin the journey. A large fish jumps at Tobiah. Catch it, Raphael says; keep the heart, gall bladder, and liver. They will help in healing.

Tobiah meets these distant relatives: Raguel, Edna, and Sarah. He is smitten by Sarah's beauty. Raphael tells him to burn the heart and liver of the fish on the incense burner and pray before retiring. Meanwhile, Raguel is outside digging a grave for another fallen suitor.

To their surprise (one can only imagine) the parents learn that the marriage has been consummated; their daughters place in their world seems secure: Tobiah lives! Unknown to them, the repellent odor from the incense burner has repulsed even the destructive, heinous force. Raphael binds him in Egypt!

The festivities begin; the couple returns to Tobiah's worried parents. Tobiah anoints his father's eye lids with the gall, the last gift of the huge fish. Tobit sees once again and all live happily ever after.

Yes, we might call this a "soap opera." How many people seem unfulfilled, unhappy as Sarah seems? How many people find their lives of intimacy sadly lacking? How many guides come to us hidden from our eyes? When we experience life as unfair, what keeps us going?

Paul Ricoeur wrote in 1978: "We may say that history, by opening us to the different, opens us to the possible, while fiction, by opening us to the unreal, opens us to the essential." It seems essential that we live in hope; that we continue the journey.

Each new calendar year seems like a time for some new beginning, some vibrancy, some reason to live and breathe hopefully, not merely go through the motions. Perhaps this sacred fiction will help heal our own blindness and sustain us beyond pain, resentment, and even, despair.