Archive for the ‘Sirach (Ecclesiasticus) 17’ Tag

Week of 8 Epiphany: Monday, Year 1   7 comments

Above:  Camels at Giza

To What Do We Cling?

FEBRUARY 28, 2011


Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), of The Episcopal Church, contains an adapted two-years weekday lectionary for the Epiphany and Ordinary Time seasons from the Anglican Church of Canada.  I invite you to follow it with me.


Ecclesiasticus (Sirach) 17:24-29 (Revised English Bible):

Yet he leaves a way open for the penitent to return to him

and endows the waverer with strength to endure.

Return to the Lord and have done with sin;

make your prayer in his presence and lessen your offence.

Come back to the Most High,

renounce wrongdoing,

and hate intensely what he abhors.

The living give him thanks,

but who will praise the Most High from the grave?

When the dead cease to be, their gratitude dies with them;

only when alive and well do they praise the Lord.

How great is the Lord’s mercy

and his forgiveness to those who turn to him!

Psalm 32:1-8 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1 Happy are they whose transgressions are forgiven,

and whose sin is put away!

2 Happy are they to whom the LORD imputes no guilt,

and in whose spirit there is no guile!

3 While I held my tongue, my bones withered away,

because of my groaning all day long.

4 For your hand was heavy upon me day and night;

my moisture was dried up as in the heat of summer.

5 Then I acknowledged my sin to you,

and did not conceal my guilt.

6 I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD.”

Then you forgave me the guilt of my sin.

7 Therefore all the faithful will make your prayers to you in time of trouble;

when the great waters overflow, they shall not reach them.

8 You are my hiding-place;

you preserve me from trouble;

you surround me with shouts of deliverance.

Mark 10:17-27 (Revised English Bible):

As he was starting out on a journey, a stranger ran up, and, kneeling before him, asked,

Good Teacher, what must I do to win eternal life?

Jesus said to him,

Why do you call me good?  No one is good except God alone.  You know the commandments:  “Do not murder; do not commit adultery; do not steal; do not give false evidence; do not defraud; honour your father and your mother.”

He replied,

But Teacher, I have kept all these since I was a boy.

As Jesus looked at him, his heart warmed to him.

One thing you lack,

he said.

Go, sell everything you have, and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come and follow me.

At these words his face fell and he went away with a heavy heart; for he was a man of great wealth.

Jesus looked round at his disciples and said to them,

How hard it is for the wealthy to enter the kingdom of God!

They were amazed that he should say this, but Jesus insisted.

Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God!  It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.

They were more astonished than ever, and said to one another,

Then who can be saved?

Jesus looked at them and said,

For men it is impossible, but not for God; everything is possible for God.


The Collect:

Most loving Father, whose will it is for us to give thanks for all things, to fear nothing but the loss of you, and to cast all our care on you who care for us: Preserve us from faithless fears and worldly anxieties, that no clouds of this mortal life may hide from us the light of that love which is immortal, and which you have manifested to us in your Son Jesus Christ our Lord; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.


A commonly-held First Century C.E. Jewish assumption was that the wealthy were closer to God than were common people.  Jesus refuted that point of view.

I have encountered an assumption that there is a checklist of holiness, and that, if one does enough good deeds, one will go to Heaven.  Jesus refuted that point of view, too.

A wealthy man who had observed many commandments asked Jesus, “Good Teacher, what must I do to win eternal life?”  Jesus told the man to abandon his security blanket, his wealth.  The rich man’s sin was the false assumption of self-sufficiency.  He needed to depend solely on God, a theme consistent with other material from Mark 10.

Then Jesus delivered a striking piece of hyperbole:  “It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”  The commentaries I have consulted agree that this most likely what is seems to be:  it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.  The Babylonian Talmud contains a similar expression about an elephant passing through the eye of a needle.

The rich man needed to cease to cling to his wealth to draw nearer to God.  To what do you cling?  What holds you back?  It is possible to draw nearer to God by grace.  Forgiveness and repentance are possible by grace.  And we need to cling only to God.


Week of 7 Epiphany: Saturday, Year 1   13 comments

Above:  Parisian Children

The Kingdom of God Belongs to Such as These

MARCH 2, 2019


Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), of The Episcopal Church, contains an adapted two-years weekday lectionary for the Epiphany and Ordinary Time seasons from the Anglican Church of Canada.  I invite you to follow it with me.


Ecclesiasticus (Sirach) 17:1-15 (Revised English Bible):

The Lord created human beings from the earth

and to it he turns them back again.

He set a fixed span of life for mortals

and gave them authority over everything on earth.

He clothed them with power like his own

and made them in his own image.

He put the fear of them into all creatures

and granted them lordship over beasts and birds.

He fashioned tongues, eyes, and ears for them,

and gave them minds with which to think.

He filled them with understanding and knowledge

and showed them good and evil.

He kept watch over their hearts,

to display to them the majesty of his works.

They will praise his holy name,

proclaiming the grandeur of his works.

He gave them knowledge

and endowed them with the life-bringing law.

He established with them an everlasting covenant

and revealed to them his decrees.

Their eyes saw his glorious majesty,

and their ears heard the glory of his voice.

He said to them,

Refrain from all wrongdoing,

and he taught each his duty towards his neighbour.

Their conduct lies open before him at all times,

never hidden from his sight.

Psalm 103:1-4, 13-18 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1 Bless the LORD, O my soul,

and all that is within me, bless his holy Name.

2 Bless the LORD, O my soul,

and forget not all his benefits.

3 He forgives all your sins,

and heals all your infirmities;

4 He redeems your life from the grave

and crowns you with mercy and loving-kindness.

13 As a father cares for his children,

so does the LORD care for those who fear him.

14 For he himself knows whereof we are made;

he remembers that we are dust.

15 Our days are like the grass;

we flourish like a flower of the field;

16 When the wind goes over it, it is gone,

and its place shall know it more more.

17 But the merciful goodness of the LORD endures for ever on those who fear him,

and his righteousness on children’s children;

18 On those who keep his covenant

and remember his commandments and do them.

Mark 10:13-16 (Revised English Bible):

They brought children for him to touch.  The disciples rebuked them, but when Jesus saw it he was indignant, and said to them,

Let the children come to me; do not try to stop them; for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.  Truly I tell you:  whoever does not accept the kingdom of God like a child will never enter it.

And he put his arms round them, laid his hands on them, and blessed them.


The Collect:

O Lord, you have taught us that without love whatever we do is worth nothing: Send your Holy Spirit and pour into our hearts your greatest gift, which is love, the true bond of peace and of all virtue, without which whoever lives is accounted dead before you. Grant this for the sake of your only Son Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.


Almighty God, to you all hearts are open, all desires known, and from you no secrets are hid:  Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love you, and worthily magnify your holy Name; through Christ our Lord.  Amen.

The Book of Common Prayer (1979), page 355

Human nature is complex.  It is true that we bear the image of God.  Yet we are deeply flawed.  We cannot pass a day without sinning at least once.  We are capable of caring deeply for one another and of hating each other.  We feed, clothe, and visit each other, yet we commit murder.  We comfort each other, yet some of us bully others.  As the psalmist reminds us poetically, God knows that we are dust.  God has mercy on us; otherwise we would all be doomed.

Ben Sira writes that God has instructed us in what is right and what is wrong, and that God sees all that we do.  We have much power over our fellow species in the Animal Kingdom, and great responsibility accompanies it.  Dominion does not indicate ownership, for Genesis states that we are stewards.  A steward manages what another owns.  So we ought to care deeply and actively for the rest of creation.  Besides, what affects the rest of creation affects us, too.

On a side note, “fear” in Sirach and the psalm refers to a sense of awe.  I wonder if Ben Sira became deeply acquainted with a cat.  I have known several cats very well, and I do not recall perceiving that any of them looked upon me with awe.  I loved all these felines deeply, thinking of them as furry children.  I even gave them my last name.  I have never known a humble cat, and I think that no cat has any reason to be meek.  A cat, an old saying tells me, “may look a king in the eyes.”  And may God bless house cats for that quality.

I confess that I do not like children.  As best I can tell, this derives mostly or entirely from my childhood experiences; many of my age peers were cruel to me.  So human depravity makes sense; if we were noble creatures, this nature would manifest itself more during our formative years.  And I have chosen a lifestyle certain to avoid having any children.  I consider women the better part of the human species, but I live apart from any of them.  My lot is more contemplative and solitary than not.  Children would disturb me, and I lack the patience to deal with them properly.

So the reading from Mark gives me pause.  The Kingdom of God belongs to such as these?  Yes, the Gospels challenge me, too.  William Barclay, in his commentary on the Gospel of Mark, identifies four spiritual values children embody (generally speaking):

  1. humility
  2. obedience
  3. trust
  4. a short memory

Children, Barclay writes, are generally not obsessed with their own importance.  Also, obedience is their natural instinct, as are trust in parental authority and the goodness of others.  Finally, children tend to be slow to hold grudges.  There is no divine law against such characteristics.

Perhaps the most important lesson for we educated adults who like to think matters through deeply and question authority is that, when approaching God, we ought not to think too highly of ourselves.  God is God, and we are not.  Arrogance is endearing in a cat, but it is not a spiritual virtue in a human being.

Here ends the lesson.