On the one hand, the way of life offered to us in the Gospel must be the basis for our everyday living and influence all our words, actions and relationships. Our Sunday worship, if it is properly celebrated, is intimately connected with our to living a Gospel-centred life while a Gospel-centred life will have a lot to bring to the celebration of the Eucharist. Perhaps it is here we find one of the inherent weaknesses of our Christian life in these times.
Today’s reading has a message which is relevant for all Christians. The teaching is that there should never be a division between our worship in church and the way we lead our daily lives. Each one is meant to reinforce the other.
The author, Ben Sirach, is both a firm supporter of liturgical worship and at the same time emphasises the observance of the Law, especially in matters of justice and charity. He brings them together in this reading. To live a deeply moral life is in itself a form of worship. But formal worship is also important for him.
He begins by saying that one who observes the Law is already making many offerings. Following the teaching of Jesus, we Christians believe that true love and service of brothers and sisters, especially those in need, is to worship God really present in each one.
As examples, he says that to return a kindness is like making an offering of the choicest flour to the Temple. To give alms is equivalent to making a thanks offering. To abstain from moral wrongdoing is to make an act pleasing to God and to give up sinful ways is the equivalent of making atonement. (The Day of Atonement was the greatest day in the liturgical calendar of the Jews.)
“Do not appear before the Lord empty-handed.” To “appear before the Lord” means to approach the temple with offerings. And to come empty-handed here does not mean coming without sacrificial offerings but without a record of good behaviour and acts of kindness and help to those in need. Again, we remember Jesus’ teaching that, if we remember that someone has been hurt by us in some way, we need to bring them healing and reconciliation, before we go to make our sacrificial offering. There is an intimate relation between what is offered in the temple and the kind of person one is who is making the offering.
“The offering of the righteous enriches the altar / and its pleasing odour rises before the Most High.” The offering of fruits or animals become greatly enhanced when the one offering is someone living a life truly in harmony with God’s will as given to us in the teaching of Jesus.
“The sacrifice of the righteous is acceptable, and it will never be forgotten.” It is the lifestyle of the one offering which gives the offering its real value before God.
As Christians, we need to take this reading to heart. We sometimes describe a daily communicant as a “good” Catholic. But we also do not see what we call the “Sunday” Catholic as an ideal. “Going to Mass” must be much more than the mere observance of a commandment