For those of you are might me new to this blog, or this series, I began posting on Sirach some time ago and found myself posting bits and pieces. I liked the book so much that I decided to go through it from the beginning. If you don’t considered it inspired, then you have to admit that it is at least a far cry better than anything written lately (Joel Osteen and Rick Warren – this means you!)
(1) My child, deprive not the poor of his life, and do not keep needy eyes waiting.
(2) Do not grieve the one who is hungry, nor anger a man in want.
(3) Do not add to the troubles of an angry mind, nor delay your gift to one in need.
(4) Do not reject an afflicted suppliant, nor turn your face away from the poor.
(5) Do not avert your eye from the needy, nor give a man occasion to curse you;
(6) for if in bitterness of soul he calls down a curse upon you, his Creator will hear his prayer.
In the Gospels, we read these words,
“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?” Jesus said to him, “”You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:36-40 NKJV)
Sirach is pressing the need to care for the community, not against wealth. While it is true that the wealthy are often times depicted in Scripture as less than righteous, there is no law against amasses treasures, only against allowing it to become your god while ignoring the justice that God commands.
‘Life’ in verse 1 is later defined in 29.21 as the essentials – food (water and bread), clothing, and a shelter, which is the basic needs of human life, and the most often threatened in today’s society.
Compare this entire passage with Deuteronomy 15.7-11 and Proverbs 2.27-28
Verse 4 founds a mirror in Tobit, another Deuterocanonical book:
Give alms from your possessions to all who live uprightly, and do not let your eye begrudge the gift when you make it. Do not turn your face away from any poor man, and the face of God will not be turned away from you. (Tobit 4:7 RSVA)
As well as from the words of the Lord,
Give to him who begs from you, and do not refuse him who would borrow from you. (Matthew 5:42 RSVA)
5a is missing in the Hebrew while verse 6 is substantially changed. In the Hebrew, verse 6 reads,
When the bitter in spirit cries out in the anguish of his soul, his Rock will hear his prayer
It is possible that the Greek translator saw the Hebrew word and thought of the Creator, which is not impossible. The Rock (God) is often seen as the foundation (creator) of Israel and is the source of strength.
(7) Make yourself beloved in the congregation; bow your head low to the ruler.
Hillel, a 1st century BC Rabbi, taught, “Separate not yourself from the congregation”. He meant to immerse yourself in the community so as to share not just in the joys but the sorrows as well.
(8) Incline your ear to the poor, and answer him peaceably and gently.
The Hebrew for 8b has,
Respond to him, ‘Peace’!
The idea is the same, as Chrysostom says,
For so Paul too commanded: his phrase being, “lifting up holy hands without wrath and disputing.” Dishonor not then thy tongue, for how will it entreat for thee, when it hath lost its proper confidence? but adorn it with gentleness, with humility, make it worthy of the God who is entreated, fill it with blessing, with much almsdoing. For it is possible even with words to do alms. “For a word is a better thing than a gift,” and “answer the poor man peaceably with meekness.” And all the rest of thy time too adorn it with the rehearsing of the laws of God; “Yea, let all thy communication be in the law of the Most High.” (Chrysostom hom. on Matthew)
It is not simply what we do, but the manner in which we do it.
(9) Deliver him who is wronged from the hand of the wrongdoer; and do not be fainthearted in rendering judgment.
The idea of ‘rendering judgment’ is best seen as working for justice, as this entire verse would dictate
(10) Be like a father to orphans, and instead of a husband to their mother; you will then be like a son of the Most High, and he will love you more than does your mother.
Immediately, we remember the words of the Lord by Luke’s Gospel,
But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the selfish. (Luke 6:35 RSVA)
This verse is Incarnational, but points to the ability of man to partake of the divine nature,
As His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue, by which have been given to us exceedingly great and precious promises, that through these you may be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust. (2 Peter 1:3-4 NKJV)
But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. (John 1:12-13 NKJV)
It also speaks of Christ who, though very rich, became a slave for us in order to seek justice, and became a father to the orphans (John 14.18) as well as the husband to our mother (the Church).