The Book of Sirach

Christ, the Teacher… Catacombs, Rome

We’re reading from the Book of Sirach weekdays at Mass until Ash Wednesday, March 6th. It’s always helpful to look into the background of the books of scripture and ask when, for whom, and why were they written.

The Book of Sirach was written by a Jewish sage in Jerusalem around 200 BC in Hebrew and was translated into Greek sometime later. Sirach was a writer who loved his Jewish tradition and wanted to pass on its wisdom to a generation that might be saying: “We don’t see anything in it for us any more.”  Judea had come under the control of Alexander the Great and his generals who introduced their Jewish subjects, sometimes forcibly, to Hellenistic culture. They were succeeded in 64 BC by the Romans.

The Book of Sirach seems to be a grandfather’s attempt to speak to grandchildren in danger of abandoning their own tradition as they experience a powerful Greco-Roman influence in the world of their time. Sound like today? 

Sirach often speaks of the “fear of the Lord.”  He’s not saying be afraid of God, but keep God who is all powerful and all wise before you always. Don’t get lost in yourself or your experiences of life.

What does Sirach do? He speaks strongly of the presence of God who’s everywhere, of a wisdom found in the world and our experience of daily life. Learn from your experience of life, he tells his descendants; your religious tradition and its heroes will help you.

Sirach isn’t saying either to be afraid of life. Life’s not easy, but Sirach sends the younger generation out into the world to find wisdom there. Learn from life, he says, as those before you have done. As I have done.  

“Trust God and God will help you;

trust God, and God will direct your way;

turn not away lest you fall.

Fear God and grow old therein.

You who fear the LORD, wait for his mercy,

and your reward will not be lost.

You who fear the LORD, trust him,

for lasting joy and mercy.

You who fear the LORD, hope for good things,

You who fear the LORD, love him,

Study the generations long past and understand.”

and your hearts will be enlightened. (Sirach 2, 1-11)

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