Saturday of week 7 of Ordinary Time – First Reading

Commentary on Sir 17:1-15

Sirach today speaks of the relationship between the Creator and the human beings he has made. It is part of a poem in praise of the Lord for the creation of humankind. The author is following the order of Genesis and has already spoken of the creation of stars, plants and animals.

He combines in one the two accounts of the creation of humankind (Gen 1:26-27; 2:7) and interprets the image of God in humans under the headings of authority, strength, and dominion, thus developing a hierarchy of power: God, humans, living beings.

Humans were created by God from the earth, and will at the end return to earth. The First Man had been created a living thing from the earth and at the end is buried and returns to where he came from.

Human life on earth is temporary, but humans were given authority over all other creatures on earth. For God gave humans a special strength and made them to be in his own image: sharing his ability to know and love and share his vision of creation.

Because of this, we were put in charge over all beasts and flying things and God “filled all things with dread of humans”. A generally true statement but there are exceptions where the human is the one who fears.

God shaped for humans a mouth and tongue, eyes and ears, and gave them a heart to think with. The Israelites believed that the heart was the seat of reason rather than the seat of the emotions, as it is for us. The list of faculties for perception is similar to that common to the Stoic tradition. The ‘five faculties’ were sight, touch, smell, hearing and taste.

The human was also filled with knowledge and understanding and given a sense of good and evil. In this way, God’s light was planted in human thinking so that we could appreciate, as other creatures cannot, the magnificence of God’s creation.

In addition to the faculty of knowledge, God also taught us. He endowed us with “the law of life”. This refers to the Law of Moses, which is included in the endowments that God “allotted” to mankind. The gifts of Creation and of Mount Sinai are here telescoped into one act of God.

Their eyes saw his glorious majesty,

Their ears heard the glory of his voice.

A reference to the Israelites’ experience at Mount Sinai.

For us, of course, there is the further teaching that we have received through the Incarnate Son of God and a new “law of life”. “I have come that they may have life, life in greater abundance” (John 10:10).

Our response to all these gifts will be to “praise his holy name, as we tell of the Lord’s magnificent works”. A very important part of our prayer is to praise and thank the Lord for the beauty and gift of his creation.

At Mount Sinai also, God told his people to beware of all wrongdoing and “he gave each a commandment concerning his neighbour”. He did this through the Ten Commandments and the Mosaic Law. And they needed – as we do – to be aware that “their ways are always under his eye, they cannot be hidden from his sight”.

Let each one of us reflect that we too are part of this creation, we have been given these gifts to develop so that we can continue to grow ever more in the likeness of our God. That is the sole purpose of our existence and we forget it at our peril.

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