This post is part of a reflective Lenten series, originally published as Facebook posts on my personal account
Lenten practice, day #2.
Reference: Tobit 2:1-14
In the very same breath that Tobit describes the lavish Passover banquet with “many different dishes” that had been prepared for him (he makes VERY clear that it’s HIS meal), he sends his son out to find an impoverished kinsman and invite him to share in the banquet as well. In fact, not only does he invite the less fortunate to dine with him, he refuses to dig in until they arrive.
Modern culture doesn’t like this. In today’s society, he would either be told to keep the entire meal to himself (consumerist ideals) or to give such a lavish meal away (you don’t deserve that! There are starving children in Africa…). But, per usual, the Bible is giving us a better, third option (Luke 6:29). To reject the meal entirely would fundamentally undermine the gift of the people who prepared it for him. To show appreciation for the meal that someone else labored to prepare for him, Tobit needs to enjoy it.
Let me explain: In society, we seem to find it difficult to accept gifts that are given to us. I, for one, feel terribly awkward accepting birthday gifts from other people. My immediate reaction is to reject the gift–“Oh, I really don’t need that!”–but to do so would be fundamentally selfish. When I give a gift to another person, I sincerely want them to have it and to enjoy it. If they were to just reject it, that would hurt. They would shut down my attempt to show them love. If I reject someone else’s gift on account of my own insecurities, I’m not acting out of what’s best for them, I’m simply making myself feel good. That is selfishness. Sometimes, to love is to receive. But society isn’t wired that way today. Modern culture is wrapped up in consuming–in buying and paying, each man for his own. But that’s not what WE are wired for. We’re wired for giving and receiving, each man for the other. To put it bluntly: when we expect everything to be a transaction, nothing is a gift. Gift is love, and we thirst desperately for love.
Tobit is well aware of this, of course. Instead of rejecting the meal, he gladly accepts it (he lets you know it’s his!). But in being loved, he desires to give love in return–so he quickly finds the closest impoverished kinsman he can that he can share the extravagance he feels so lucky to have. He receives love, and he loves.
Screw society (Tobit 2:7-8), Tobit does what is RIGHT, not what feels good or makes him fit in. Atta boy, Tobit. Atta boy.
Aaaaaaaaand of course, later in the very same chapter, after being struck blind, we find him rejecting the gift of love. His livelihood whisked away with his vision, Tobit’s patience and faith begin to wear thin. His wife Anna, now working at the loom in an attempt to keep food on the table, brings home a goat she received as a bonus. Tobit immediately tells her to get rid of it. He assumes that it was stolen at first (telling of his trust levels at this point), but even after Anna insists that it wasn’t, he demands she get rid of it. A marital fight ensues and Tobit finds himself crying out in anguish to God.
Giving with love and receiving with love are SUCH critical aspects of human nature, and yet so often we refuse ourselves those gifts. Tobit’s experience is a wonderful illustration of how strongly happiness, trust, faith, and love rely on openness to gift. We know that to give and to receive in love is to flourish–so why don’t we just do it?