instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Sunday, September 01, 2013

Four words of Sirach

Today's first reading is from the Book of Sirach, Chapter 3, vv. 17-18, 21, 29-30. That's six omitted verses in a passage thirteen verses long (apparently, v. 3:19 doesn't count anymore, but there's one more verse in the chapter that isn't part of the reading). If you didn't know this, you might just think this Sirach fellow wasn't very good at sticking to one point.

When you look at the whole passage (the Lectionary verses are in bold; the italicized headings are mine), you can see that the writer is actually developing (albeit briefly) several different points, any one of which could easily fill your daily allowance of lectio divina:
My son, conduct your affairs with humility,
and you will be loved more than a giver of gifts.
Humble yourself the more, the greater you are,
and you will find mercy in the sight of God.

For great is the power of the Lord;
by the humble he is glorified.

What is too sublime for you, do not seek;
do not reach into things that are hidden from you.

What is committed to you, pay heed to;
what is hidden is not your concern.
In matters that are beyond you do not meddle,
when you have been shown more than you can understand.
Indeed, many are the conceits of human beings;
evil imaginations lead them astray.

Without the pupil of the eye, light is missing;
without knowledge, wisdom is missing.
A stubborn heart will fare badly in the end;
those who love danger will perish in it.
A stubborn heart will have many a hurt;
adding sin to sin is madness.
When the proud are afflicted, there is no cure;
for they are offshoots of an evil plant.
The mind of the wise appreciates proverbs,
and the ear that listens to wisdom rejoices.

As water quenches a flaming fire,
so almsgiving atones for sins.

The kindness people have done crosses their paths later on;
should they stumble, they will find support.
The Gospel reading (Luke 14:7-14, with Luke 14:1 as an introduction) does present Jesus teaching on both humility and almsgiving, so I can see why the first reading might try to touch on both as well. Still, there's something about the piecemeal hastiness with which the above half-chapter is read to the people that almost guarantees it will be undercomprehended and underpreached. I don't know the history of this pericope -- it's use may be a venerable tradition -- but for the common or garden Catholic parishes in the U.S. that I'm familiar with, I don't think it effectively presents the true sublimity of the wisdom of Sirach.