I, Tobit, walked in the ways of truth and righteousness all the days of my life. I performed many acts of charity for my kindred and my people who had gone with me in exile to Nineveh in the land of the Assyrians.
During the reign of Esar-haddon I returned home, and my wife Anna and my son Tobias were restored to me. At our festival of Pentecost, which is the sacred festival of weeks, a good dinner was prepared for me and I reclined to eat. When the table was set for me and an abundance of food placed before me, I said to my son Tobias, "Go, my child, and bring whatever poor person you may find of our people among the exiles in Nineveh, who is wholeheartedly mindful of God, and he shall eat together with me. I will wait for you, until you come back." So Tobias went to look for some poor person of our people. When he had returned he said, "Father!" And I replied, "Here I am, my child." Then he went on to say, "Look, father, one of our own people has been murdered and thrown into the market place, and now he lies there strangled." Then I sprang up, left the dinner before even tasting it, and removed the body from the square and laid it in one of the rooms until sunset when I might bury it. When I returned, I washed mysel and ate my food in sorrow. Then I remembered the prophecy of Amos, how he said against Bethel, "Your festivals shall be turned into mourning, and all your songs into lamentation." And I wept.
When the sun had set, I went and dug a grave and buried him. And my neighbours laughed and said, "Is he still not afraid? He has already been hunted down to be put to death for doing this, and he ran away; yet here he is again burying the dead!"
Then he began to speak to them in parables. "A man planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a pit for the wine press, and built a watchtower; then he leased it to tenants and went to another country. When the season came, he sent a slave to the tenants to collect from them his share of the produce of the vineyard. But they seized him, and beat him, and sent him away empty-handed. And again he sent another slave to them; this one they beat over the head and insulted. Then he sent another, and that one they killed. And so it was with many others; some they beat, and others they killed. He had still one other, a beloved son. Finally he sent him to them, saying, 'They will respect my son.' But those tenants said to one another, 'This is the heir; come, let us kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.' So they seized him, killed him, and threw him out of the vineyard. What then will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and destroy the tenants and give the vineyrd to others. Have you not read this scrpture: 'The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord's doing, and it is amazing in our eyes'?"
When they realized that he had told this parable against them, they wanted to arrest him, but they feared the crowd. So they left him and went away.
A slender thread links Tobit with the gospel parable for today: how to survive in a changed situation, when the cultural and moral markers one has relied upon seem to have diluted or disappeared. In today's gospel, brutish people grow recklessly selfish way because of God's apparent absence. In an age of shifting cultural values we need the commonsense message of the book of Tobit, which integrates religion with everyday life, and deeply-held family values are revived to provide a foothold of meaning. In the story, God responds to Tobit's sense of fidelity. This book can be read as a religious novel, whose message is clearly relevant for today. The inspired author used a lively story form, figures of speech, the setting of the Assyrian exile, lines from the prophets and from the Book of Proverbs, to make one major point: even the tragic and baffling turns of life can lead to a happy ending.
Today's gospel also wrestles with the problem of failure and the sense of loss. The vineyard owner seems to have vanished, so the tenant farmers behave recklessly, even killing the owner's son to seize control of the property. When Jesus told this parable, he surely had in mind the familiar text: "The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone." (Ps 118:22). This principle of reversal holds that God is always faithful to th ose who trust Him, and can draw new life from the worst of situations. Christians later applied this text to the spread of the faith to the gentile world after the fall of Jerusalem to the Romans in A.D. 66-70.
The story of Tobit, as intriguing as a short novel, invites us to admire the person who risks his own security and peace in order to give a decent burial to his murdered fellow-exile. The gospel's message too is fundamentally optimistic: out of disaster good can come. Jesus, the stone rejected by the builders, is the bedrock and keystone of our lives. If we are founded and rooted in him, God will build us a peaceful home on earth and our eternal dwelling hereafter.
The story Jesus tells in today's gospel is about rejection. A vineyard owner sent his servants to collect his share of the fruits of the vineyard; all of them were rejected out of hand. He then sent his son who was not only rejected but killed. At the end of the story Jesus declares that the stone rejected by the builders went on to become the keystone, the most important stone in a building. The story is a veiled reference to what had happened to the prophets before Jesus came and what would soon happen to Jesus himself. He would be rejected and put to death, but God would raise him from the dead and make him the keystone of a new spiritual building, the church. The feeling of rejection is a common enough human experience. People can feel themselves rejected by others, often by significant others, at various stages of their lives. Jesus who knew the pain of rejection identifies with us in our own moments of rejection. He also assures us that there can be life and love beyond rejection; the rejected stone can become the keystone. God can work in a life-giving way in and through all the various painful experiences that we struggle with in life. Experiences that we might judge to be completely negative can turn out to be foundational for our lives. The Lord's power often manifests itself in surprising ways in our moments of greatest weakness.