On our festival of Pentecost, the feast of Weeks,
a fine dinner was prepared for me, and I reclined to eat.
The table was set for me,
and when many different dishes were placed before me,
I said to my son Tobiah: “My son,
go out and try to find a poor man
from among our kinsmen exiled here in Nineveh.
If he is a sincere worshiper of God, bring him back with you,
so that he can share this meal with me.
Indeed, son, I shall wait for you to come back.”
Tobiah went out to look for some poor kinsman of ours.
When he returned he exclaimed, “Father!”
I said to him, “What is it, son?”
He answered, “Father, one of our people has been murdered!
His body lies in the market place where he was just strangled!”
I sprang to my feet, leaving the dinner untouched;
and I carried the dead man from the street
and put him in one of the rooms,
so that I might bury him after sunset.
Returning to my own quarters, I washed myself
and ate my food in sorrow.
I was reminded of the oracle
pronounced by the prophet Amos against Bethel:
“All your festivals shall be turned into mourning,
and all your songs into lamentation.”
And I wept.
Then at sunset I went out, dug a grave, and buried him.
The neighbors mocked me, saying to one another:
“He is still not afraid!
Once before he was hunted down for execution
because of this very thing;
yet now that he has scarcely escaped,
here he is again burying the dead!”
The Jewish festival of Pentecost, taking place fifty days after Passover at the beginning of the wheat harvest, was a time of celebration and thanksgiving to God. In today’s first reading, we see Tobit observing this festival with a feast. Traditionally, this would have been a time of jubilation for the Jewish people, declaring God’s goodness and relishing the gifts He had given. For Tobit, the feast of Pentecost takes a bitter turn when he finds one of his fellow Jews lying murdered in the street. Even though it was illegal, Tobit didn’t hesitate to bring the man’s body home in order to give him a proper burial. Tobit knew that in doing so he was risking his own life, but he could not abandon his kinsman. He valued the law of God far above the law of the emperor, and he showed unshakable courage in upholding it.
The Christian feast of Pentecost has its roots in the Old Testament festival. While the apostles cowered in the upper room, the city of Jerusalem was preparing to celebrate with feasting and dancing. Hidden within the busy streets and boisterous crowds, the apostles waited and prayed. Paralyzed with fear, feeling so distant from the joyful clamor outside, they waited for the courage to step out the door and be what Jesus called them to be: His witnesses, in Jerusalem and all Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth. They knew it was time to observe the feast, to share in fellowship with their brethren, but they didn’t know how they would have the strength to face the world without Jesus by their side. And so they prayed. They prayed to receive the Holy Spirit, to be filled with the strength to carry out God’s will.
Just as God supplied faithful Tobit with the courage to do His will even in the face of death, He sent His Holy Spirit upon the apostles that they might step boldly into the light of day and proclaim the Good News to the throngs of people outside. They knew that this path would likely lead to their martyrdom, but with the Holy Spirit present, they didn’t let fear of punishment deter them from fulfilling their role in the divine plan. Despite the suffering they had endured thus far and the bitterness still to come, they were jubilant in proclaiming God’s Word to the people. The presence of the Holy Spirit set everything else into perspective, and the apostles were able to revel in God’s goodness with overflowing joy.
Image: Vasco Fernandes, Penecostes / PD-US