Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Keeping God's Covenant: A Reflection on the Book of Tobit


I really love the book of Tobit. If you ever get an opportunity, read this book in Scripture, because it’s a really heartwarming story. It’s an ancient episode of Touched by an Angel.

The old man Tobit is a just and upright man, but he, along with the rest of Israel are living in exile during the Babylonian occupation. During this period, all of his countrymen living around him have forsaken worship of the Lord, and have turned even further to idolatry. Turning to idolatry is why God sent them into exile in the first place. Tobit, though stays true to the covenant, even though he’s mocked by everyone for doing it.

Tobit then undergoes a personal tragedy. While he’s doing an act of mercy by burying a dead man who had been abandoned in the road, he goes blind.

Now he has to send his only son, the young boy Tobiah, on a dangerous journey to find their kinsmen, somewhere in the Babylonian empire, and get help.

But before Tobit does this, he prays. Tobit prays. Tobit prays for his son’s safety. Now think of this for a minute. Put yourself in Tobit’s shoes. You’re helpless. You can’t provide for your family in a foreign country that’s hostile to you. And now you have to send your only child, a teenage boy, to look for your relatives, somewhere in this vast empire.

How would you pray? Tobit didn’t just pray. Tobit poured his heart out to God. Tobit begged God for help.

And God heard his prayer, and sent the archangel Raphael, disguised as one of Tobit’s kinsmen, to act as a guide for the boy. And in the course of their travels they find Tobit’s kinsmen, Raphael rescues a young maiden, Sarah, from being tormented by a demon, he brings young Tobiah and Sarah together and they get married, and he even finds a cure for Tobit’s blindness.

The lesson here is this: God hears the prayers of those who keep his covenant.

Once Jesus was asked to respond to the question, “Which is the greatest commandment?’ He says the greatest commandment is, “Hear O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord alone! Therefore you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.” This statement in Hebrew theology is called the Shema. It’s the heart of the Mosaic law.

But then Jesus goes on to say, “The second is like it, you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” The Ten Commandments are rooted in these two commandments; loving God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and loving our neighbor as ourselves.

God responds to Tobit because he kept both of these great commandments. First, he kept God’s covenant even when it was difficult and life threatening to keep God’s covenant. And he also loved his neighbor as himself by the charitable acts that he preformed. And he poured his heart out to God in prayer.

If we remain true to God, God will remain true to us. If we are single hearted for the Lord, and treat others with a charitable heart, then God will hear us in our need even in the midst of a pagan empire.

It is my prayer for us all today, that we become as single hearted for God as Tobit was.

And blessed be God forever,

Father Michael Anthony Sisco

Visitor, Confraternity of Penitents

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