MAY 28, 2005- HOMILY: SIRACH 1; 12- 20; MARK 11: 27-33

The Pharisees authorities in Palestine never admitted the book of Sirach into the official list of inspired Scripture, though it was rather widely circulated and used in Jewish worship. But the Alexandrian Jewish leaders were of another mind and incorporated the Greek translation made by the grandson of the author in the Septuagint. It has been much appreciated from early times in the Catholic Church and was always considered to be inspired Scripture and cited so frequently in the early liturgy that it was given the title ‘Ecclesiasticus’, ‘the Church Book’. While there are some serious limitations in its teachings, notably the failure to give any place to belief in the afterlife, yet the author has a fund of insights into human and divine truths that contribute to the formation of a mature religious and humane character.

The passage from his book that today’s liturgy cites is taken from its last chapter. This is a kind of appendix that contains a summing up of the meaning he assigns to its teaching which he describes as a search for a wisdom that is possessed only as a gift from the Lord. This acquisition is so real, so meaningful and satisfying to his intimate self that he conceives of it as a beautiful, matchless and virtuous woman, a companion, aglow with the light of understanding. This wisdom is not arrived at in the manner of that sophia/wisdom of Greek philosophy, by abstract reflection on material and human realities. It is rather embodied in the Torah as he states: "Whoever fears the Lord will act like this, and whoever grasps the Law will obtain wisdom. She will come to meet him like a mother and receive him like a virgin bride (15:1,2)." Fear of the Lord, more than superior intelligence, is the condition for obtaining this precious favor: "The fullness of wisdom is to fear the Lord ...The crown of wisdom is to fear the Lord ... the root of wisdom is to fear the Lord (1:16, 18, 20)."

St Paul had already taught that Jesus crucified has become for us" the wisdom and power of God" (1Cor 1:25). The early monastic fathers who laid the foundations of our way of life often spoke of it as the philosophic life. The monk was the true philosopher who prepared his heart by the discipline of ascesis and the labor of contemplation to receive the gift of wisdom as the gift of the Spirit of God. All of us, in whatever station of life, have the same call to prepare the heart for receiving that wisdom which confers true life and which is revealed in Scripture. In the Byzantine liturgy the reading of the Gospel is announced by the deacon as ‘Sophia Theou’, ‘the Wisdom of God’. To know through living faith the risen Lord Jesus, who, having died for us now lives in the glory of the Father, this is the true wisdom that all of us are called to receive into our hearts. May our energy and our best efforts serve this one goal. May we learn so to work, so to treat one another and all persons as to become increasingly receptive to the Spirit of God who confers on all who seek him the surpassing grace of divine wisdom that bestows life eternal to her children.

Abbot John Eudes Bamberger

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