Sirach, a Teacher of Children

This week we’re reading selections in the lectionary from the Book of Sirach. The Book of Sirach, written in the early 2nd century BC,  is a compilation of a Jewish father’s or grandfather’s advice to his son or grandson. Formerly, it was called the Book of Ecclesiasticus, because it was used extensively by the church to teach catechumens and young people about right living and morality. 

It’s more than a book of do’s and dont’s, of memorized commandments or little gems of human wisdom. It puts human life and creation itself in the context of God’s plan. 

You can see that in today’s reading:

“How beautiful are all his works!

even to the spark and fleeting vision!

The universe lives and abides forever;

to meet each need, each creature is preserved.

All of them differ, one from another,

yet none of them has he made in vain,

For each in turn, as it comes, is good;

can one ever see enough of their splendor?” (Sirach 42:20-25)

The simplest, smallest thing that passes quickly away, like a spark or fleeting vision, is beautiful–like the small pollinators at work now in our garden or the spring fireflies in our night sky, Each thing has its place in the universe, Sirach says.  “All of them differ, one from another, yet none of them has God made in vain.” 

Sirach sees creation as Pope Francis does in Laudato si’. “For each in turn, as it comes, is good; can one ever see enough of their splendor?” Creation is given to us, not to be exploited or judged by our needs, but to reveal God’s glory. We live in a world of mutuality and interconnectedness, where the smallest have a place. 

That way of looking at creation is also the way to look at humanity, Sirach tells his son and grandson. Be humble and don’t miss those who live humbly, the poor, the widow, the suffering, the sick. Be honest and truthful and generous and kind. See God in humanity, especially where God seems in disguise.

Does Sirach, an old catechetical work, offer a framework for catechesis today, which may be too humanly oriented in its approach? I think it does.

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