Last year I set up this blog to share my thoughts as I read through the Bible in a year. That is, the regular “Protestant” bible of Old and New Testaments.
But there are other sacred books from the time of Jesus or a few centuries before, that are regarded by some (but not all) Christians – particularly Roman Catholics – as part of the Bible. So for completeness I am covering those in the period of Lent 2018. The version of the Bible I am using is the Jerusalem Bible “Popular edition”.
Any views expressed here are my own. If my thoughts are helpful, let me know. If you disagree, you’re welcome to add polite comments – I’m no fundamentalist. But this isn’t a forum for theological argument, there are plenty of others out there if that’s what you want.
From time to time I may also post other articles not related to the Bible reading, but as the Bible is actually all about real life, that seems appropriate.
I take copyright seriously, so if you want to quote me extensively, please either credit me or link back to the original blog post.
14 February. Tobit chapters 1-4
The book of Tobit, like some others in the Old Testament that tell of one person’s miraculous life (e.g. Job, Esther and Jonah) is generally regarded as edifying fiction, rather than a historical account. We need not be worried about this – Jesus used stories about fictional people to make important points about God and the relationships between God and people, or between people.
This is an appropriate place to start the Apocrypha, on Wednesday 14 February 2018. Firstly, it is Ash Wednesday – the first day of Lent, when Christians confess their sin, pledge themselves to live simply and focus more on God (at least for the next six weeks until Easter) and practice good works such as giving to charity (or almsgiving, as it used to be called).
The story of Tobit is told in the first person. He presents himself as a faithful Jew living in unfaithful times: his own Jewish tribe had turned to idolatry, yet he still went to Jerusalem to worship; he was exiled among foreigners, yet kept the faith and the rules of kosher; when politics turned against him he became poor, yet still remained faithful to God. Even when, like Job, he suffered physical torment (being blinded by bird droppings) he remained true. At the core of his ethics was the giving of alms.
So on this Ash Wednesday we can take Tobit as an example for a life focussed on our relationship with God, and meeting the needs of other people.
What did eventually break Tobit’s spirit so that he asked God to be allowed to die was when he did not believe his wife, whose story of being given a kid got as a present was actually true. Meanwhile, we are told, it is by the will of God and the ministry of an archangel that at the same time, his relative Sarah in a distant land also finds herself turning to God in despair, as her family has run out of male relatives who can be offered as her fiancé, after seven have died during their engagement (this, remember, is probably fiction, but well plotted fiction).
Sometimes it is the little things that “get us”. An emotionally strong person who can cope with human suffering in their lives may find themselves crying over a character in a well told story; a ruthless person may yet find tenderness in one particular relationship or in the frustrations of unrequited love.
Today is also Valentine’s day, when we remember a saint who was no shrinking violet: soldier and martyr, a tough guy, yet he gave his name to both bold acts of self-sacrifice, and the intimate acts of devoted caring, both of which we call love.
So whether it is a romantic meal with your partner, or giving food to the hungry, or standing up for your faith in the face of persecution, may Valentine bless you today with the love of God.