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Archive for the ‘Tobit’ Category

Continuing from the previous post, where we began taking an imaginative look at the Book of Tobit through the eyes of his wife Anna.

Once Tobit decided that it would be better for him to die, there was no shaking him from his depression. He lectured Tobiah day and night about the need to be virtuous, the need to keep the Torah, the need to marry within our tradition. All good advice, to be sure, but he was hardly a shining example of the blessings such a life would bring. Finally, he offered a bit of practical advice. He told Tobiah about the money he had left in Media, back before the roads became too dangerous for travel. He sent our son to find a trustworthy companion. Azariah is not the man I would have picked. I thought he seems a little too slick. How convenient that he happened to be loitering near by, that he happened to be related to us. But Tobit had no such concerns. He can be so gullible at times. Let the man mention a name or two and Tobit was willing to let our only son go off with him on a long and dangerous journey.

Is it any wonder I began to despair of ever seeing Tobiah again? Day after day I watched the road for his return, while Tobit stayed inside and made excuses: Maybe something unexpected came up, maybe Gabael is dead, maybe they couldn’t find the money…. Through it all he said over and over, “Anna, don’t worry. The man he went with is trustworthy.” But I want to know how he could be so sure. As I sat there looking down the road, I had visions of the man doing away with our son and leaving him in a shallow grave.

Little did I know that while I was fretting about Tobiah’s safety, his future in-laws were digging him a grave on his wedding night. And why? So that their neighbors wouldn’t ridicule them for their daughter’s misfortune. Why do we worry so much about honor and shame? Why do we spend so much time and energy trying to keep up appearances? When Tobiah told me the whole story, my heart went out to Sarah’s mother. She wasn’t trying to cover up the shame. She was weeping for her daughter and trying to encourage her to persevere. That’s what mothers do.

And now here I am at Tobit’s grave. He’s finally being buried with all the honor he gave to so many of our countrymen. He rejoiced when our son returned, and his good spirits returned with his sight. It turned out I was wrong about Azariah. He was trustworthy after all. And more than that, he tells us he was a messenger sent by God. And indeed, he did bring us blessings in abundance. Sarah and Tobiah had a good marriage, blessed with seven sons. Tobit continued to live a virtuous life but he was less boastful about it. He learned that the praise for his blessings belonged to God and not to his own good works. It made him easier to live with, and we settled into a comfortable old age. He made Tobiah promise to bury me with him, so as I look into his grace, I know that I am also looking into my own. But I don’t feel afraid, for I know that I will live on through Tobiah and Sarah and their children and their children’s children. It’s been a difficult life with Tobit and his virtue, but it’s been a good life. Praise be to God.

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Several years ago when I was studying Scripture at the Athenaeum with Fr. Tim Schehr, one of the assignments was to look at the book of Tobit through the eyes of his wife. I had a great time with it and thought that I’d share it here. It’s longer than I realized, so I’ll spread it out to correspond to the lectionary readings this week.

As I stood by Tobit’s grave, suddenly I realized that nearly our whole life has centered on graves. My husband’s commitment to burying his dead kinsmen became an all-consuming passion. I understood the importance of his activity from a religious perspective. It was a mitzvah. But I wonder if he realized the toll it took on our daily life. When he was reported to the king, he had to flee for his life, leaving me alone with our son. And while he was gone, the authorities came and confiscated all his goods. To hear him tell the story, it all sounds so virtuous., so upright, so courageous. Men only see the adventure involved, and the principles. Do they ever give a thought for the women and children left at home? Sometimes I almost understood why our neighbors mocked him for his actions. And yet, he was my husband. We were exiles, strangers here. Our neighbors didn’t understand our faith and they didn’t understand Tobit.

After he was blinded, I had to take in weaving work. His nephew was good to us, but we had to make some attempt to help ourselves. I was a good weaver and I liked doing the work, even if Tobit tended to dismiss it as “the work that women do.” The owners I worked for were good to me, often giving me gifts of food in addition to my wages. I usually prepared it without saying anything to Tobit. He didn’t mind accepting help from his nephew, but I was afraid he would object to charity from the non-Jews in Nineveh. So many of our countrymen had assimilated, been absorbed by the Babylonian culture. Tobit was determined we would hold fast to our faith, to the Law, to Adonai.

The day they gave me the goat, I wasn’t sure what to do with it, so I brought it home with me. Later I would take it to be slaughtered in accord with our Law. Tobit heard the goat bleat when we came in and had a fit. Where he got the idea that the goat was stolen, I don’t know. I was tired and I had been pleased with the gift. He insisted we give it back, and finally I lost my patience with his high ideals. “Where are your charitable deeds now? Where are your virtuous acts?” Did he think he was the only one who could perform acts of charity? It was so hard for him to accept help from others. And he made me feel as though I had betrayed him and our faith in accepting this gift. But he didn’t hear what I was saying. He was driven by some single-minded approach to life.

Next thing I knew he had launched into a prayer for death so that he would no longer have to endure insults. What was he thinking? They hadn’t been insulting him with this gift. Nor had I been insulting him when I told him his true character was showing. Well, I may have over-reacted just a bit. But it was the same story again and again. His concern for his own virture and reputation had blinded him to the day to day reality. He didn’t care about me, he didn’t care about our son. We were the props to his proper life. I began to think that all his good deeds were merely a way to make himself look good in his own eyes. How often had I heard him boast, “I, Tobit, have walked all the days of my life on the paths of truth and righteousness.” No wonder he took it so hard when other people failed to admire his virtue!

(to be continued…..)

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Today in the weekday lectionary cycle we begin the book of Tobit, one of my favorite books in the Catholic Old Testament. As I was reading through today’s selection, one of the things that I noticed was that the opening scene takes place on the Jewish feast of Shavuot or Weeks. Shavuot was a harvest festival, but it also celebrated the giving of the law on Mt. Sinai, and this is fitting for the beginning of Tobit’s story, because it’s one of those books of the Bible that reflects on what it means to live God’s law, often at a great personal price. In the case of Tobit, it’s also about living a godly life in a culture that often misunderstands and even ridicules its importance.

If we look at Tobit’s opening scene more closely, however, we see a character familiar in both the Old and New Testaments, someone who might be a little too impressed with his own righteousness. He’s sitting down to a splendid feast day dinner and sends his son out to find a poor man to share that meal with him. But listen to the qualifications: “My son, go out and try to find a poor manfrom 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.” The question of the “deserving poor” is one that we still wrestle with in our own time. And as we go through the week, we will see many of Tobit’s notions being tested by the difficulties he himself faces.

Tobit, like many of us, gets a bit too complacent, a bit too sure of himself, in the good times, in the times of feasting and enjoyment. But when push comes to shove, when tragedy strikes, we see his true colors. He does what needs to be done, he does what he knows he’s called to do. He doesn’t do it perfectly, he doesn’t always shine, but he always tries to live a good life. I’m reminded of the well-known quote from Blessed Mother Teresa: God does not call us to be successful, he calls us to be faithful.

I’m looking forward to exploring these stories over the next few days, but now my tea water is boiling and it’s time to call it a night.

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