Scripture Study -- The Book of Sirach For daily Scripture Study, which follows the daily readings in the Mass, see Presentation Ministries', Today’s Scripture Teaching, from "One Bread, One Body". The full test of Sirach can be read on the Bible Gate Way. You can use our Home Page Index to access the Bible Gate Way.

the book of Sirach (Ecclesiasticus) belongs to the body of writings called "Wisdom Literature" in the Bible. It derives its name from the author, Jesus, son of Eleazar, son of Sirach, and was written in Hebrew between 200 and 175 BC and translated into Greek sometime after 132 BC by the author's grandson. He also wrote a Foreword, which contains information about the book, the author and the translator himself. Though not included in the Hebrew Bible after the first century AD, nor accepted by Protestants, the Catholic Church has always recognized the Book of Sirach as divinely inspired and canonical. The Foreword, though not inspired, is placed in the Bible because of its antiquity and importance. The church used the Book of Sirach extensively in her liturgy.

The Wisdom Literature of the ancient Israelites is a collection of the philosophical and poetic musings of their sages, who placed a high value on wisdom. In fact, they treasured Wisdom so much that they attributed Wisdom directly to God. This reflection on moral instruction encompasses Sirach 1:1-10 and Sirach 2:1-11. They are good examples of their view of Wisdom: "All wisdom comes from the Lord. Before all things else wisdom was created." In other words, they were saying that all truth—religious and scientific, moral and political—comes from God. God is the ultimate source and the norm of truth. We finally do not measure human truth against human reason or human need. We measure truth against divine reason and divine intention.

But that means that we never own wisdom. The truth is not our property to manipulate as we see fit or to copyright against the use of others. The author of Sirach puts it bluntly: "All wisdom comes from the Lord and with him it remains forever." We have wisdom on loan from God! This view of truth carries several implications that we too often forget. For one thing, our human truth is never absolute or final. We will never come to an end of the search for truth in this life or on this earth. For another thing, our human truth belongs to the whole family of God. Truth, whether it be religious or scientific, medical or technological, should be shared with the whole human family. We are custodians of God’s truth, which means that we should share it with all of God’s children.

The best way to share our religion is to live it in our daily lives rather than trying to "sell" it like it was one more product of our materialistic society. Yet, religion is "sold" in the market place like everything else these days. In other words, religion is presented as a solution to human problems, as a fulfillment of human needs. The different denominations and religions appeal to different segments of the population, depending on their perceived needs and problems.

The pentecostal-type religions seem to draw people who are highly emotional and long for spiritual "highs." The liturgical-type religions seem more appealing to people who love order and drama. The intellectual-type religions attract people who are looking for a cerebral faith. The prosperity-religions have great appeal to people who seek wealth and health. The fellowship-type religions draw people who are looking for an experience of community.

There is nothing particularly wrong or surprising about this "market orientation" in American religious life. Why shouldn’t religion meet people’s needs and answer their problems? What good is a religion if it didn’t do those things?

That said, there is a real danger in presenting religion only as a solution to problems and an answer to questions. Sirach reminds us (Sir 2:1-11) that real religion often creates problems and raises questions for the believer. "My son, when you come to serve the Lord, prepare yourself for trials!"

Faith calls us to champion unpopular causes like seeking justice for the oppressed. Faith calls us into question by challenging our self-centered preoccupations. Faith manifested through our religion should be the great disturber of the complacent as surely as it is the great comforter of the suffering. GLP

This reflection is from the December 1998 Edition of the San Francisco Charismatics (ISSN 1098-4046), member of the Catholic Press Association of the United States and Canada. If you would like to receive a free copy monthly of the San Francisco Charismatics, e-mail us your snail mail address. Sorry, only USA addresses where we mail bulk rate.

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