Wisdom Part 23: Sirach-Forgotten Gems

Typical of the Wisdom Books, Sirach gives advice about prudence, the habit of making good decisions. His advice about speech is relevant in this age of social media: “Do not consult with fools, for they cannot keep a secret. In the presence of strangers do nothing that is to be kept secret, for you do not know what they will divulge.” He goes on to say that revealing all your thoughts to just anyone, “may drive away your happiness” (8:17-19). Sirach warns against loose talk and gossip. In 19:4-12 he writes: “One who trusts others too quickly has a shallow mind… One who rejoices in wickedness will be condemned, but one who hates gossip has less evil. Never repeat a conversation and you will lose nothing at all.”

He differentiates between gossip, not to be repeated, and what should be passed on because it is important and might save someone in danger: “With friend or foe do not report it [gossip], and unless it would be a sin for you, do not reveal it.” Humorously he advises… you don’t need to say everything you know: “Have you heard something? Let it die with you. Be brave, it will not make you burst! Having heard something, the fool suffers birth pangs like one in labor… Like an arrow stuck in a person’s thigh, so is gossip inside a fool.”

Many passages in Sirach are superbly suitable for spiritual reading, waiting to be discovered and reflected upon. In 1:22-24 he speaks about anger, patience, and silence: “Unjust anger cannot be justified, for anger tips the scale to one’s ruin. Those who are patient stay calm until the right moment, and then cheerfulness comes back to them. They hold back their words until the right moment; then the lips of many tell of their good sense.”

Most of all, Sirach recommends fidelity, humility, trust in God, and openness to God’s forgiveness. He proposes a whole way of life: “My child, when you come to serve the Lord, prepare yourself for testing. Set your heart right and be steadfast… Cling to him and do not depart… Accept whatever befalls you, and in times of humiliation be patient. For gold is tested in the fire, and those found acceptable, in the furnace of humiliation. Trust in him, and he will help you; make your ways straight, and hope in him. You who fear the Lord, wait for his mercy; do not stray…, trust in him, and your reward will not be lost. You who fear the Lord, hope for good things, for lasting joy and mercy. Consider the generations of old … has anyone trusted in the Lord and been disappointed? Or has anyone persevered in the fear of the Lord and been forsaken? Or has anyone called upon him and been neglected? For the Lord is compassionate and merciful; he forgives sins and saves in time of distress” (2:1-11).

It is easy to see how these words were embraced by the early Christians, and how Sirach received the well-deserved name, Eccelsiasticus, the Book of the Church.