“Do not grow weary when you pray; do not neglect to give alms.
Do not ridicule a person who is embittered in spirit, for there is One who humbles and exalts.
Do not devise a lie against your brother, or do the same to a friend.
Refuse to utter any lie, for it a habit that results in no good.
Do not babble in the assembly of the elders, and do not repeat yourself when you pray.”
WISDOM, INTENTIONS, AND FOLLOWING THROUGH
The quote above is from the book of Sirach (sometimes called Ecclesiasticus), a book of wisdom found in the Apocryphal/Deuterocanonical Books of the Old Testament. This book has similarities to other wisdom literature in the Old Testament, books like Psalms, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes. This scripture is a portion of the first lesson for today’s Daily Office.
When I read a passage of scripture like this, I think of the wisdom of the elders being passed down through the generations. I hear something like this: “Do you want to be wise? Do you want your life to go well? Then do these kinds of things, and don’t do these kinds of things.”
More specifically, when I contemplate the above verses, I hear:
Keep praying, each day… every day. It is a practice that will bear fruit. It will bring you closer to God; praying on a consistent basis will change your life, will change you. (I also think of Jesus’ “Never give up” parable about prayer, the one about the widow and the unjust judge - Luke 18:1-18.)
“Do not neglect to give alms” says to me that we are all in this ride on planet earth together. The haves are supposed to help the have-nots, not because there may be a tax deduction, but because it is an act of love and connection and solidarity, a recognition that we are all in this together. It is also a way of dethroning money and warding off the waiting-at-the-door sins of greed and blame.
“Do not ridicule a person who is embittered in spirit” says to me that I haven’t walked in that person’s shoes and I don’t know their whole story. “… there is One who humbles and exalts” is a reminder that God is the one who is to be the Judge, not me. My judgment will never be as wise, loving, or merciful as God’s, because of my owns sinfulness and limitations. I am to be wise and discerning, yes. But I am not to condemn anyone. It simply is not my job, because I don’t have that authority. Jesus said that only God is good! My job is to love, listen, forgive, and be an agent of God’s healing.
Don’t lie, “for it is a habit that results in no good.” I think “don’t lie” means a number of things. It means don’t stretch the truth, don’t “fudge the story” so that I put myself in a more favorable light. There is the corollary of not lying, which is to not withhold the truth. (I heard a powerful teaching about this one day from Katie Hendricks, where she basically said that withholding the truth has the same impact on a relationship as lying.) If someone says something that is inappropriate or damaging or racist or sexist or __________, and I sit there in silence, it is as if I am condoning what is being said. And if I withhold some of what is going on inside of me from my spouse or a close friend or a co-worker, I am throwing a monkey wrench into things. I must pray and find my courage in such moments, and speak up - speaking the truth in love.
“Do not babble in the assembly of the elders, and do not repeat yourself when you pray.” This reminds me of that whole section of the Sermon on the Mount that we hear on Ash Wednesday, which begins with Jesus saying, “Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them…” (Matthew 6:1) He then goes on to talk about how we should give alms, how we should pray, how we should fast. (Matthew 6:1-17) And babbling, well, that is just talking to hear myself talk. There is a neediness and a narcissism in that. It doesn’t serve others; it doesn’t serve the reign of God. It is much better to be discerning when we speak, to bring a spirit of prayer into our speaking. Then our words might actually build up the body and elevate the community or national dialogue.
Seek wisdom. Another way to say that: Seek God. Set an intention to pray and give and be with others and speak of others in ways that imitate Jesus’ love. Then do your best to follow through with those intentions.
That is what I hear in this reading for today.