I am reading 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 of this while being accompanied and guided by the Archangel Raphael, who hides his real identity under the guise of a relative of Tobit’s.
I came across Tobit 1:10-12 and it struck me as a good lesson for believers of this age and every age. Tobit and his Hebrew brethren have been taken captive to Nineveh as part of the Babylonian Captivity, when Jews were exiled 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” (Tb 1:10-12).
There are times when being faithful can be a lonely experience. Certainly, this is true when one is surrounded by those who don’t embrace the same faith. Often, non-believers or believers of other traditions will 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, however, 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, unbending, too concerned about following rules, and unwilling to think for him or herself.
I suspect that Tobit experienced this in Nineveh. His confreres were willing to sacrifice the principles of their faith while he was not. We don’t have to be too hard on those who compromised. 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. But, that’s the point, isn’t it? Some who claim faithfulness to the God of Israel and to His incarnated Son are sometimes 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 accused of trying to be “holier than thou.” They’re put under pressure to compromise in the same way others have because refusing to compromise makes the others look bad, or feel bad. Besides, they’re committing the great mortal sin of the present age — they’re being intolerant.
Tobit likely felt all of this. He likely had many an angry eye turned his way for his refusal to compromise the practice of his faith. He felt devotion to God was more important than his personal comfort, and those who had decided that faithfulness was too great a burden, given the circumstances, didn’t appreciate his witness. The message he was 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 and all the we owe Him. How will we manage the greater trials to come if we give up so quickly when the road gets a bit rough?”
It’s tempting to say, given the circumstances, we don’t have to hold ourselves to the practice of the faith, to the devotions that turn our hearts to the Lord, to the sacrifices we could only expect of the saintly. I am not a saint. God will understand.” But, we are saints! Saints called to sanctity. Holy ones called to holiness. It’s in the small sacrifices that we prepare ourselves for the bigger ones, the ones that will demand more of us than we might ever expect us being willing to give. But, if we give ourselves up in the small sacrifices, the bigger ones will be easier, our response of faithfulness more a matter of course than something to which we must give a lot of thought. The bigger sacrifices will simply be the next obvious step on a path we’ve been walking for a long time.
Tobit must have known this. He must have known that to give up the traditions, even given the circumstances, would eventually lead to his forgetting who God is, and that would lead to his forgetting who he is. He was not willing to risk that. Neither should we be willing to 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.