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“The Catholic Edition of the Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyright 1965, 1966 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.”
Background~after a brief prologue the book proper opens with a praise of Wisdom (Sirach 1:1-29), dealing first with its origin with God (Sir 1:1-8); its being rooted in the fear of the Lord (Sir 1:9-18); and how one attains it (Sir 1:19-29). Sirach 2:1-18 focuses on one’s duties towards God. The quest to live by wisdom will bring adversity, demanding sincerity, patience, steadfast adherence to God (Sir 2:1-6) who can and must be trusted (Sir 2:7-18).
Chapter 3 of Sirach consists of two complete sections and the introduction of a third. The first section, Sirach 3:1-16, deals with one’s duties towards father and mother, a logical extension of fear of and trust in the Lord “For the Lord honored the father above the children, and he confirmed the right of the mother over her sons” (Sir 2:2). If father and mother are honored with rights over children then any act of rebellion or disobedience can be taken as a lack of humility, thus leading into the exhortations to humility in Sir 3:17-22; followed by warnings concerning pride (Sir 3:23-29). There then follows warnings and exhortations to help the poor and oppressed (Sir 3:30-4:10).
Sir 3:17 My son, perform your tasks in meekness; then you will be loved by those whom God accepts.
Perform your tasks…you will be loved by those whom God accepts. These tasks would certainly include one’s obligation towards parents whom God accepts, and whom He has honored, and whose rights He has confirmed (Sir 2:2). It would also include ones obligations towards the power, powerless, oppressed, for the Creator hears the prayers of such (Sir 4:6).
Sir 3:18 The greater you are, the more you must humble yourself; so you will find favor in the sight of the Lord.
A radical demand in a fallen world, but one that is necessary, “for God abases the proud, but he saves the lowly” (Job 22:29).
Haydock Commentary: The dignity of a person should be the measure of his humility, (S. Amb. de virg. 31.) as the most elevated are the most exposed to pride. Humility is taught only by true wisdom and the gospel. Matt. 11:29. Philosophy may inspire us with the contempt of riches, &c. C.—Yet humility is the most indispensable duty, and no less essential than delivery to an orator. S. Aug. ep. 118. ad Diosc.—All human greatness comes from God, who requires us to shew our gratitude by humility. W. .
St Augustine: Let him remember that this very Gospel of John, which urges us so pre-eminently to the contemplation of truth, gives a no less remarkable prominence to the inculcation of the sweet grace of charity. Let him also consider that most true and wholesome precept which is couched in the words, “The greater thou art, the more humble thyself in all” (Sir 3:18) For the evangelist who presents Christ to us in a far loftier strain of teaching than all the others, is also the one in whose narrative the Lord washes the disciples’ feet (Jn 13:5). (Harmony of the Gospels).
Sir 3:20 For great is the might of the Lord; he is glorified by the humble.
For he raises the humble up in the face of the proud and arrogant: “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has regarded the low estate of his handmaiden. For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed; or he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name. He has shown strength with his arm, he has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts, he has put down the mighty from their thrones, and exalted those of low degree; he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent empty away” (Lk 1:46-53).
Sir 3:21 Seek not what is too difficult for you, nor investigate what is beyond your power.
“Our author’s position is not anti-intellectual-he is protesting against any philosophizing that might obscure the clear light of God’s revelation” (Ernest Lussier, S.S.S., Old Testament Reading Guide: The Book of Proverbs and the Book of Sirach).
Sir 3:29 The mind of the intelligent man will ponder a parable, and an attentive ear is the wise man’s desire.
The words of this verse contrast nicely with Sir 3:24, 26-28 (verses 23-27 in the NAB). It is an act of humility and true intelligence to ponder the meaning of parables offered by the wise, and the truly wise loves and desires such teachings.
Sir 3:30 Water extinguishes a blazing fire: so almsgiving atones for sin.