7 Jun 2023
For 7 June 2023, Wednesday of the 9th Week in Ordinary Time, based on Tobit 3:7–10
On the same day, at Ecbatana in Media, it so happened that Raguel’s daughter Sarah also had to listen to abuse, from one of her father’s maids. For she had been married to seven husbands, but the wicked demon Asmodeus killed them off before they could have intercourse with her, as it is prescribed for wives.
So the maid said to her: “You are the one who strangles your husbands! Look at you! You have already been married seven times, but you have had no joy with any one of your husbands. Why do you beat us? Is it on account of your seven husbands, because they are dead? May we never see a son or daughter of yours!”
The girl was deeply saddened that day, and she went into an upper chamber of her house, where she planned to hang herself. But she reconsidered, saying to herself: “No!” . . .
Suicide is a tough one. Perhaps you have received a morning phone call from an unknown neighbor of a relative. Or maybe you have been awakened by a police officer sent to your door. Suicide finds its way into families and religious communities. It messes with our heads as we experience grief, confusion, and anger and suffer the consequences of other persons’ choices. Perhaps you could include your name on the long list of people with recurring suicidal ideation. Maybe you get the help, support, and intervention you need—but maybe not. Think of the veteran soldiers burdened by post-traumatic stress disorder. Think of so many teenagers, single parents, and people who are chronically or terminally ill. Think of people paying a public price for their crimes or people unfairly slandered or falsely accused. Think of those without a social network or so many whose safety net is being shredded by a politics of hate.
Today the Lectionary for Mass gives us two strange readings about an Old Testament woman and a New Testament woman, each of whom has lost seven husbands. In the Old Testament book of Tobit, we meet Sarah. Each of her seven husbands has consecutively been killed on their wedding night by the phenomenally evil demon Asmodeus. When a maid accuses Sarah of responsibility for these deaths, she considers hanging herself, but upon reconsideration, Sarah says No.
Our unnamed New Testament woman has been widowed seven times with seven brothers. The scripture passage does not mention her trauma but instead gets into a theoretical debate about who will be her husband at the resurrection on the last day.
In each passage, the symbolic number seven points also beyond the Bible—to the trauma, grief, isolation, shame, and self-loathing that so many people experience today, whether alone or for all the world to see. For these suffering people, and certainly for those among them who consider or attempt suicide, we must not consider resurrection and God’s promise of life to be a debating point. Instead, the paschal mystery of Jesus’s death and resurrection promises that God is with us in profound suffering. Do not doubt that God walks closely with those children, teenagers, and adults who, for many reasons, choose to forgo their lives. God will never forget those who consider or struggle with that choice.
The experience of suffering can be overwhelmingly disorienting or unfair, and the crosses people carry are no joke. Too many people suffer with burdens too heavy to bear alone. Too many suffer condemnation or public humiliation. Too many are pawns of so-called leaders more invested in power than the common good. God’s loving promise of resurrection charges families, communities, and society with a responsibility to build compassionate networks of empathy, solidarity, and support.
In the spirit of today’s scriptural number seven, here are seven ways for us to encounter the potentially deadly spirit of suicide who walks in our midst: (1) trust your gut, (2) get talking, (3) call your local version of the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline, (4) condemn the sin but love the sinner, (5) love and protect the overburdened, (6) advocate for human dignity and justice, and (7) stake your life and the lives of others on God’s resurrection promise.
“O God, whose providence never fails in its design, keep from us, we humbly beseech you, all that might harm us and grant all that works for our good.” Amen.
Scripture passage from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Catholic Edition, copyright 1989, 1993, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.