I, Tobit, walked in the ways of truth and righteousness all the days of my life. I performed many acts of charity for my kindred and my people who had gone with me in exile to Ninevah in the land of the Assyrians. (Tobit 1:3 NRSV)
What we have in Tobit is the story of a gentleman who has been faithful all of his life. He was raised a Jew, became a Jew when he reached adult age, and remained a Jew despite any trials that he may have encountered. We will talk about how faithful he was in a moment. For now, let it suffice to say that we have a story about a very faithful, God-fearing man.
Before we go any further, I want to make a couple of things clear. Firstly, I do not think it takes away from the Scriptures to not have the Deuterocanonical books in our Bibles. With or without them, the overarching message of the Bible is the same: God wants to redeem His fallen humanity.
Secondly, although I don’t think it takes away from the Scriptures, I believe that having them adds a dimension to the Scriptures that is missing from our Protestant Bibles. We are without certain words of wisdom and analogies and pieces of history that have the potential to leave us confused as to what is being said sometimes. So while not having them doesn’t take away from the message, having them can help us to better understand that message and to better put various events, especially in the life of Jesus, into their proper historical context.
Lastly, I understand the discomfort of some Protestants when it comes to the “Apocrypha.” Protestants and Catholics have a LONG history of not getting along. Hence why we are called “Protestants.” Protestant religion began, after all, as people protesting the actions and decisions and beliefs of the Catholic church. So, to say that we should reacquaint ourselves with the content of the Deuterocanonical Scriptures has the potential of being a source of tension and even Spiritual distress for some. But while I understand this, I don’t think it is necessary. For a long part of our history, these books were a part of our Bibles. To reclaim them as the Scriptures they once were brings us into greater solidarity with our brethren from the past. So, for those of you who may be uncomfortable with this brief study of the Deuterocanonical books, I ask this question: is it really worth distancing yourself from spiritual brothers and sisters over 400 pages of writing?
Back to the topic at hand.
The opening statement of Tobit alone shows us how helpful this story can be for the life of the Christian. A lot of Christians really have been faithful to the ways of God. They have been decent people. They have helped those in need. They have worked in soup kitchens and built houses and turned mattresses over at the homeless shelter.
I alone went often to Jerusalem for the festivals, as it is prescribed for all Israel by an everlasting decree. I would hurry off to Jerusalem with the firstfruits of the crops and the firstlings of the flock, the tithes of the cattle, and the first shearings of the sheep. I would give these to the priests…I would save up a second tenth in money and go distribute it in Jerusalem. A third tenth I would give to the orphans and widows and to the converts who had attached themselves to Israel. (Tobit 1:6-8 NRSV)
And what happened to him?
That same night I washed myself and went into my courtyard and slept by the wall of the courtyard; and my face was uncovered because of the heat. I did not know that there were sparrows on the wall; their fresh droppings fell into my eyes and produced white films. I went to physicians to be healed, but the more they treated me with ointments the more my vision was obscured by the white films, until I became completely blind. For four years I remained unable to see. (Tobit 1:9-10 NRSV)
Life happens and these Christians become blinded by all the crap in their way. No matter what we do, no matter how many people we ask for help, it all just seems to get worse and worse and we become more and more blinded. And it seems to go on forever. But, eventually, God heals us. But, in so many cases, it is simply not in the way that we would want or the way we would expect, but we praise God anyway.
Blessed are you because you have made me glad. It has not turned out as I expected, but you have dealt with us according to your great mercy. (Tobit 8:16 NRSV)
This is another of those ideas that are strangely missing from our Protestant Bibles because we don’t have this story. As far as I know, no one in our Protestant Bibles is so blunt as to simply say to God, “This may not be what I wanted, but You sure have been merciful!” But, so often, this is exactly what we say and how we feel about how God has worked. It’s not what we expected, but God saw us through.
For the time being, we will leave it at this. In the coming weeks, we are going to briefly look at the themes of some of the Deuterocanonical stories and snippets of wisdom from the pieces of wisdom literature included in this section of the Catholic and Orthodox Biblical canon. In future studies, we will make connections between things said in these books to things said in the New Testament. We will even use some of the historical narratives to put various aspects of the Jesus story into proper perspective. In the mean time, spend some time reading Tobit and let God reveal to you the truth that He has placed there for your life.