If you didn’t already wonder about my choice of titles, this one has got to have you wondering. I’m sure that you are asking how such a title is at all related to a Catholic blog. Simple answer – read Tobit 2: 9-14! This reading was read last week at daily mass and is now my new favorite Bible verse.
So now that you have read it, you can see that poor Tobit gets bird poop in his eyes and goes blind, then makes a crazy comment about women weaving cloth…because that is, of course, what women do…and then accuses his wife of stealing a goat! She is pretty snarky in return and gets him back though…as if the blindness wasn’t enough! Is there any Bible verse that is crazier?
So what can we possibly learn from this story? Well, first we have to figure out who Tobit was and how his life progressed. Then we can compare Tobit’s (Old Testament) response to adversity to St. Paul’s (New Testament) response when he was in Corinth.
Starting first with Tobit, he was a wealthy Israelite of the tribe to Naphtali who lived in Ninevah after the northern tribes of Israel were deported to Assyria around 721 BC. Tobit was married to Anna and had a son named Tobias. Tobit was known for being a very pious and devout man, probably to a fault.
At the start of Chapter 2, Tobit speaks of the festival of the Seven Weeks held fifty days after Passover wherein many Israelites made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. While in Jerusalem, Tobit was ministering to the poor people, strangers, orphans and widows.
At one point, Tobit was dining on a wonderful feast and felt bad that he was eating in such abundance. For that reason, Tobit looked for a poor man to share in the feast. Little did Tobit know that such a good deed would set off a whole chain of events that would cause him half a life time of suffering and almost destroy him in the process.
To make a long story short, Tobit sent his son Tobias to look for the poor man to share in the feast. Once Tobias went out, he found a strangled corpse and reported his finding back to Tobit. (As a side note, don’t you wonder just how often such a thing happened??) Feeling pity, Tobit felt obliged to retrieve the corpse and bury it. In so doing, he ruined his appetite and became “unclean.” Because he was unclean, Tobit slept outside in the courtyard, with his face uncovered, and ended up on the wrong end of the sparrows sitting on top of the wall, thereby going blind! As a result of his blindness, he could no longer support himself or his family thereby causing his wife Anna to support the family by weaving cloth. After Anna came home with a goat that she received as a bonus, Tobit wrongfully accused her of stealing the goat and demanded that she return it! In response, Anna mocked him and sarcastically asked him how he could be so afflicted in view of all of his good deeds. (Crazy story right?!?!?)
As a result of all of these events, Tobit fell into a deep depression. It seems as though Tobit could not understand how he could suffer so much if he was such a good man. In layman’s terms, Tobit seemed to think that life was going “to hell in a handbasket” and that there was nothing that he could do to stop it. For that reason, Tobit prayed for death. (I will leave the end of the story to your own reading)
So what is the moral of this story? Well, Tobit was a devout and pious man. He praised God and gave alms. However, his piety was arguably obsessive and self-destructive. But who among us hasn’t had these feelings at some point in life? Haven’t we all wondered at some point why bad things happen to us, especially if we think that we are living a good life? So how do we combat falling into such a trap?
Well, one good way is to reflect on the life and teachings of St. Paul, especially when he was in Corinth. His response to suffering and adversity was quite different from that of Tobit.
When we think of Paul preaching in Corinth, we must remember that he was being persecuted most of the time. More specifically, the church in Corinth had been infiltrated by false teachers that were seeking to replace Paul and take power for themselves. However, before they could do this, they needed to discredit Paul and turn the people against him. They tried to turn the people against Paul by attacking him in a very vicious way. However, Paul’s response to these attacks and all of the negativity was very different from Tobit’s response. Paul agreed with his attackers and admitted that he was nothing without the Lord. In so doing, Paul taught the church that, because of his weakness, anything good that came from his life was the direct work of God.
In 2 Corinthians 4:8-9, Paul speaks to the church and addresses these attacks. He professes that “[w]e are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed…” Note how different Paul’s response is from Tobit’s.
More specifically, Paul uses the word “afflicted” which, in Greek, is “thlibo.” This Greek word means to be under pressure or under the gun, as we would say in the popular vernacular. How many of us, on a daily basis, think that we have a lot of pressure at school, home, or at work?? How many of us think that we know exactly what pressure is?? I know I do. But just how many of us have had to face death on a daily basis?!? How many of us have had to face the pressure of supporting a church, of spreading the Gospel in a hostile land, or of being the direct target of the Devil himself?? Probably none of us…but yet we all despair at some point in life…some of us on a daily basis…maybe just like Tobit. But in comparison, and through all of this, Paul persevered and did not despair. Even though he faced death, he did not give up or pray for death…unlike Tobit.
Paul goes on and says that he is perplexed but does not despair. In Greek, Paul uses the word “aporeobut” which means to be at your wit’s end but not totally mentally crushed or in utter despair and defeat. In so doing, Paul affirms that he can be pushed down and driven to deep depths but when that happens…when he digs deep…he finds strength in and through God alone.
To go even further, Paul then talks about being persecuted but not forsaken. Here, Paul uses the Greek word “dioko” which refers to being pursued or, perhaps more accurately, being hunted. In using this word, Paul makes it clear that he was being stalked by the Devil and those doing evil in Corinth. More specifically, Paul was likely referring to the people (both Jews and Gentiles) that were trying to kill him. Yet again, throughout all of this, Paul was not forsaken or abandoned because God was always with him.
Finally, Paul concludes by professing that he was struck down but not destroyed. Here, Paul was talking about being knocked down, knocked out, punched, kicked, etc. but never being totally wiped out. At no point did Paul give in and simply pray for death.
As we look back at all of this, we see that Paul was clearly under the worst type of assault and stress in Corinth, but he never gave up, never quit, and was never destroyed. Through Paul’s response to his adversity, we see a man who remained humble and invincible, strengthened by the Word of God, even when he was being hunted and under attack. We see a man who was aware of his weakness but at the same time aware of his strength in God. We see a humble man who acknowledged the truth of Jesus and triumphed in it. We see the opposite of the despair and defeat felt by Tobit. Paul finds God’s strength in his own weakness. When Paul acknowledges the Truth (which is the definition of humility), he finds the power of God channeled through his life and his actions. Paul becomes invincible precisely because he lets God take over.
Paul realized that he had to take up his cross and follow Jesus. Paul realized that if there was no pain there would be no gain, if there was no cross, there would be no crown, that there would be no life except through death, and that there would be no glory without suffering.
As we reflect on the reactions of both Tobit and St. Paul, may we all be as charitable and conscientious as Tobit and yet as humble, invincible, and strong-in-the-Lord as Paul….yes even if life poops in our eyes!
Lord, I pray that I can be humble, and by doing that, I can be invincible in You. I pray that I can be sacrificial and be useful to You. I pray that even if people criticize me, attack me, mock me, slander me, accuse my falsely, and knock me down, that they see that I can be strong in You. I pray that I can be weak, inept, and clumsy in the eyes of the world but be humble, strong, and confident in You.
I hope that you all read the full story of Tobit and that this comparison will help you understand it even just a little bit better.