Saturday of Week of Week 8 in Ordinary Time

Commentary on Sirach 51:12-20

Today, we finish our selected readings from Sirach with a poem which is a quest for wisdom. It comes from the last chapter and closing pages of the book.

In the original Hebrew text it is an ‘alphabetical poem’ in which each verse begins with a consecutive letter of the alphabet. Sadly, the original version has not reached us in a good state of preservation. Our English-language reading follows the Greek. A good example of a similarly constructed poem can be found in Proverbs 31, which gives a picture of the perfect housewife, and which can be read on the feasts of ‘Holy Men and Women’.

The poem describes the approach to wisdom through prayer, persistent study and instruction, purification from sin, enlightenment and ardent desire. Ben Sira opens with words of praise and thanks to God and what follows is an autobiographical poem on Wisdom.

As a young man, before he set out on his travels, he was already praying for the gift of wisdom.

Outside the sanctuary I would pray for her, and to the last I will continue to seek her.

From the earliest stages to its maturation, “from her blossoming to the ripening of her grape”, he has delighted in her. Once again he personifies Wisdom as a ‘she’.

Now, since his young days he has been walking in her steps and so has been able to follow a straight path. By paying careful attention, he has learned much from her. And, because of her, he has made great progress.

Glory be to him who has given me wisdom!

God is the source of all Wisdom and it is perhaps the greatest gift that God can give to anyone. Wisdom gives vision, the ability to see and understand the meaning and direction of life. What could be more precious? When God asked the new king Solomon what he would most like as a gift from God, he asked for wisdom, a reply which greatly pleased God.

The writer says that from his youth he has sought wisdom and has continued to cultivate it.

I became resolutely devoted to her. It was the good I persistently strove for. I will not be put to shame.

In his struggle to possess her – like a lover pursuing the beloved – he has kept the Law scrupulously. He has reached to Heaven, to the God from which she comes, and bemoans his ignorance of her.

He has directed his whole being towards her and “in purity”, by a life of perfect integrity, has found her.

The search for wisdom is one we also should pursue. There is no greater treasure we can have in life because, more than anything it brings us closer to God and to the end for which we were made. Through wisdom, we understand how all things relate to each other, to God and to ourselves. It is based, not on knowledge, but on deep insight into what we know. As mentioned at the beginning, wisdom has to be worked for. It comes through prayer, through a constant effort to understand every experience in life, through freeing ourselves from everything which threatens our wholeness and integrity as persons, and through various forms of enlightenment and a deep desire that she be part of our being.

Let us repeat again and again the prayer of the blind man Bartimaeus in Mark’s gospel:

Lord, that I may see.

And, when Bartimaeus was able to see, he became a disciple of Christ and walked on the road with them to Jerusalem to share in Jesus’ passion, death and resurrection.

Wisdom consists in being able to see – seeing with great clarity. Without it, we grope in the darkness.

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