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Jesus Ben-Sirach and the Quest for Wisdom

Jesus Ben-Sirach and the Quest for Wisdom

For the next two weeks we will be reading from the Book of Sirach.  This is a deutero-canonical book which means that it is not included in the Hebrew Scriptures and, therefore, not in the Protestant Scriptures.  Earlier we used to call this the Book of Ecclesiasticus.  The Greek title is The Wisdom of Jesus Ben-Sirach.  It would be classified as part of the Wisdom Literature of the Old Testament.

Jesus Ben-Sirach was a Jew who lived in Jerusalem and was thoroughly imbued with love for the Wisdom Tradition, the Law, the Priesthood, the Temple, and Divine Worship.  His purpose in writing was to reflect on life and to draw conclusions from his reflections that helped him and his readers to remain faithful to their religious faith and human integrity.

We have just concluded a series of readings from the first eleven chapters of Genesis in which the sacred writer charts the course of humanity from creation to the call of Abraham.  Those chapters reflect on the downward spiral of sin and the moral disintegration of the human family after the “original” sin of Adam and Eve.  The overwhelming conclusion that we can draw from these readings is that the human family was guilty of arrogance, an arrogance that led them to vaunt themselves into the role of the Creator, taking on for themselves the decisions that were meant to be God’s.

Jesus Ben-Sirach begins his discursive treatment of Wisdom by acknowledging that true Wisdom resides with God and with God alone.  When faced with the enormity of the created universe, Sirach asks who but God can comprehend the immensity of creation, the grains of sand on the seashore, the height of the mountains, the depths of the seas.  Of course our scientific knowledge has led us to being able to measure the height of the mountains and to being able to plumb the depths of the oceans.  However, those explorations and measurements can only lead us to the conclusion that we are woefully ignorant when it comes to understanding all that the created universe contains. 

One of the most popular writings of St. Bonaventure of Bagnoreggio is the Itinerarium in Mentis Deum.  In this work, St. Bonaventure points to the elements of our natural world as vestiges of God’s intention.  By contemplating the world of creation, we can come to some understanding of God’s intention in creation.  However, even if we spend our entire lives considering these vestiges, we will always come up short.  We will always be left with more questions than answers.  Only the truly humble person will come to realize that our human nature is not capable of such understanding.  God is simply far too immense for our paltry abilities to comprehend.  All we can do is sit in wonder.

As we traverse this last week and a half before the beginning of Lent, Sirach leads us to reflect on true Wisdom, a wisdom that realizes that we are the creature and that God is the creator.

Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator

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