A lesson from the Book of Tobit

Giving up traditions, despite the circumstances, could lead to our forgetting who we are

By Bob Hunt

I recently read the Book of Tobit in the Old Testament. Tobit is a marvelous book. It’s a novella about a man who goes blind, then sends his son on a journey to retrieve money he had left with a creditor before he dies. On the journey, the son marries a woman who has been tormented by a demon, conquers the demon, retrieves the money, then returns to his father and heals his blindness—all while being accompanied and guided by the Archangel Raphael, who hides his identity under the guise of a relative of Tobit’s.

When I came across Tobit 1:10-12, it struck me as a good lesson for believers of this age and every age. Tobit and his Jewish brethren have been taken captive to Nineveh as part of the Babylonian Captivity, when Jews were forced into exile from Israel to Babylon in the middle of the sixth century BC. It reads:

“Now when I was carried away captive to Nineveh, all my brethren and my relatives ate the food of the Gentiles; but I kept myself from eating it, because I remembered God with all my heart.”

There are times when being faithful can be a lonely experience. Certainly, this is true when one is surrounded by those of different faiths. Often, however, nonbelievers or believers of other traditions have nothing but respect for Christians and Christian devotions and practices, especially if the Christian is devout and genuine in his or her faith. Still, there are others who won’t hesitate to take every opportunity to ridicule or remonstrate a believer for his or her devotion to the Lord and to the Church.

It’s even more hurtful when the ridicule and remonstrations come from those who claim the faith. Then, the devout believer who is unwilling to compromise the tenets of the faith or the practice of the faith is often accused of being rigid, too concerned about following rules, being “holier than thou,” and unwilling to think for him or herself.

We don’t have to be too hard on those who compromised during the exile. Perhaps there was no other food readily available. Perhaps not eating the food of the Gentiles would have required a sacrifice they were unwilling to make. That’s the point, though, isn’t it? Some who claim the faith are at times too quick to decide that, given the circumstances, it’s just too hard and too unreasonable to expect to be faithful. Those who are willing to make the sacrifice are accused of judging those who are willing to compromise. They’re put under pressure to lower their standards in the same way others have, because refusing to compromise makes the others look or feel bad.

The Jews who remained faithful to the traditions during the Babylonian Captivity likely felt all of this. They likely had many an angry eye turned their way for their refusal to compromise the practice of the faith. They felt devotion to God was more important than personal comfort, and those who had decided that faithfulness was too great a burden, given the circumstances, didn’t appreciate their witness. The message they were giving, in deed if not in word, was, “Yes, the circumstances are tough for us right now, but that is all the more reason to hold to the traditions, the practices of the faith that help us remember who we are and who God is. If we give those up, it will be easy to forget all that God has done for us. How will we manage the greater trials to come if we give up so quickly when the road gets a bit rough?”

The smaller sacrifices prepare us for the bigger ones. If we embrace the smaller sacrifices, the bigger ones will be easier, and our response of faithfulness will be more a matter of course than something over which we struggle. The bigger sacrifices will simply be the next obvious step on a path we’ve been walking for a long time.

The author of the Book of Tobit knew this. He knew that to give up the traditions, even given the circumstances, would eventually lead to our forgetting who God is, and that would lead to our forgetting who we are: “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of his own” (1 Peter 2:9). We ought not risk that, regardless of the age in which we live and regardless of the circumstances.

Be Christ for all. Bring Christ to all. See Christ in all.

 

Bob Hunt is a husband, father, grandfather, and parishioner at All Saints Church in Knoxville and is a candidate for the permanent diaconate.

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