Commentary on Sir 2:1-11
Today’s reading from Sirach consists of advice on what to do when things are going against us.
It opens with the address “My child”. This is a typical introduction for a passage of teaching in wisdom literature. It recurs here and there throughout Sirach.
We might summarise today’s reading as saying that:
- Serving God is not without its trials; moreover, this service must be given with sincerity, perseverance and fidelity.
- Misfortunes and humiliations help to purify people and prove their worth.
- Patience and unwavering trust in God are always rewarded with the benefits of God’s compassion and result in lasting joy.
First, we are told to be ready for testing situations, which are all bound to face at one time or another. This is a favourite Old Testament theme and also found in the Gospel and the rest of the New Testament. St Paul is eloquent on this, not least, when speaking of his own experience. See 2 Cor 11:21ff, which are the readings for Friday and Saturday of the 11th Week in Ordinary Time.
In order to be ready for such times, we should make sure that our heart is focused on God’s will in our lives and to be firm and consistent. At the same time, we ought not react impetuously when things go badly wrong. It is a time for reflection and discernment. By staying close to God we can ensure that our “last days may be prosperous”. Not just in the material sense but in being genuinely enriched in those areas of our life where it really counts.
Without being fatalistic, we need to meet positively whatever happens to us and in times when we feel belittled to practice patience. “Gold is tested in fire and in the furnace of humiliation.” What at the time may seem painful and destructive experiences can be a source of strengthening and maturing if undergone in the right frame of mind.
Second, we are advised to stay close to God, who will give us strength, and to face up to realities which cannot be avoided.
On the one hand, we put our trust in God and in his help. Do our best to live upright lives and put our hope in God’s care for us. But escaping from reality is not going to provide a solution.
You, who fear the Lord, wait for his mercy; do not stray, or else you may fall.
You who fear the Lord, trust in him, and your reward will not be lost.
You who fear the Lord, hope for good things, for lasting joy and mercy.
These are the qualities of those who “fear the Lord”. ‘Fear’ here does not mean ‘being afraid’ but rather submitting ourselves in deep reverence to a God who is so far beyond anything we can imagine. This God, awesome though he is, is a source of compassion, worthy of our trust and hope, and the ultimate source of joy and happiness.
For those, who are close to God and accept his truth, humiliation by other people is purely an external experience. As the song says, no one can take away my dignity, no matter what insults or degradations they throw at me.
“Consider the generations of old,” advises Sirach. He is speaking of those among our predecessors who followed the advice given here. Sirach will give many examples in chaps. 44-50.
And he goes on to ask: “Has anyone trusted in the Lord and been disappointed? Or has anyone persevered in the fear of the Lord and been forsaken? Called upon him and been neglected?” These questions can only be answered by direct experience but there is abundant evidence from the lives of the saints and other servants of God that the answer to all these questions is a resounding ‘No’.
And, if we do fail in our service of God, let us remember that “compassionate and merciful is the Lord, he forgives sins, he saves in time of trouble”. The Lord’s compassion and his saving his people in time of trouble is a common theme in the Psalms and the prophets. And it confirmed again and again in the life of Jesus and proved forever by his dying on the cross in the greatest act of love that anyone do for others.
Perhaps, in addition to being confident of God’s compassion for our sins and weaknesses, we might try to show the same compassion for those who “offend” us.