Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Unrequited Love

“The story assumes God’s determination to reward the just. When they suffer, there is a limit to that suffering. Once the limit occurs, God will intervene, sometimes miraculously.” The Catholic Bible: Personal Study Edition

The Book of Tobit draws my interest every time I read it. Every time I read it, I read it in its entirety. The most compelling part for me is not the love story between Tobias and Sarah, though that part is good too, but the man Tobit. Particularly I contemplate him burying the dead as his duty.

Duty, I believe, is foundational in drawing man together as one church. Tobit represents the faithful church of his time in his actions and character. Tobit is a Jewish servant of God who is persecuted by Gentiles and afflicted by blindness. His duty to God the Father is instinctive. He has built within his conscience the will to serve in the way he knows will serve his community. “I used to take their bodies by stealth and bury them” 1:18 He does not exhibit pride in these instances, rather he shows an internal desire to be part of the ongoing fulfillment of God’s covenant. I believe this is not a false humility either on his part, but a fire within to act justly for Israel.

Another aspect of his character is that of his selflessness. Tobit readily seeks to do right by his kinsmen under a ruthless authority. This action strikes me as having the flavor of supernatural courage. Tobit is also mocked for his actions by his neighbors. But his testimony is greater than they see. Tobit fulfills the covenant made with Abraham by obeying the sense of duty within him. Obedience is hard to fulfill at first, as Abraham is a witness. I believe Tobit knows that you cannot fight a call within your heart from God, because he recognizes consciously that that would be the greatest injustice he could do to himself. Therefore, even with threat of death, “Will this man never learn!” 2:8, Tobit buries the dead.

The faithfulness of Tobit contrasts with the image of God’s unrequited love of Israel. Yet, God loves on for people like Tobit. But then, Tobit becomes blind and lashes out in his brokenness. His wife calls him on it. I can see Tobit questioning his anger at life at this moment. He probably was more worried about offending God than his wife. Thus he is brought to the purest poverty of spirit in his true blindness. He wills himself to die. “So now, deal with me as you please, and command my life breathe to be taken from me, that I may go from the face of the earth into dust.”

Who can fault Tobit for this prayer? He praises more than he asks. But I understand his call to die because his purpose, to serve God, has been taken from him. The great thing about this man though, is that he continues to fulfill his duty to others even after he has given up. His duty is to his God, family and tribe. I admire his perseverance and desire to do right by others in the best way he can. The story of Tobias afterwards is a side story. Tobit’s redemption from trial is made sweeter though, by his son’s joy.

Tobit’s praises to God in his sorrow remind me of Christ’s weariness as he approaches the passion. For me, Tobit is a real example of duty and of one with supernatural will to be faithful. Christ is the perfect example of course, but Tobit helps me take baby steps to that level of love.

Tobit does not just represent himself in this book. We could see him as one of the faithful waiting for various wars and battles that the prophets predicted, but as one nation always viewing the end goal. Tobit calls us to fulfill God’s will with action and response to duty. Our obedience will be rewarded in the very real kingdom that Christ has prepared. Tobit represents a strong heart and will to serve God and receive just rewards; therefore it is possible for someone like me to work around my ignorance with duty and obedience to respond to God’s love with supernatural courage.

Tobit, man of faith, man of action, man of duty. Not your average biblical hero.