|Yeshua Ben Sirach Teaching Wisdom|
Sirach 15:15-20 In It’s Liturgical Context:
The passage is used on the Sixth Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year A. As is ususal with the Sunday readings the response verse helps establish the major theme: “Happy are they who follow the way of the Lord.” The thematic significance of the three readings and the responsorial may be summarized as follows: “In Jesus is revealed a new wisdom (1 Cor 2:6-10), a new law, a new way of living (Matt 5:17-30). Happy are they who choose to keep His commandments (Sir 15:15-20) and follow His ways (Ps 119:1-2, 4-5, 17-18, 33-34)” [Rev. Peter D. Rocca, C.S.C. ORDO: Order of Prayer in the Liturgy of the Hours and Celebration of the Eucharist. Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press Ordo].
The Broader Context of Sirach 15:15-20:
The context for the reading is Sir 14:20-16:21 which can be divided into three parts.
Sirach 14:20-15:10 is concerned with the pursuit of wisdom and the blessings that accrue to those do so. The end of this section emphasizes that God withholds wisdom from sinners (15:7-9). Searching for wisdom and sinning both involve free will, so Sirach begins to focus on this in part 2 (Sir 15:11-20). This section begins by rejecting the idea that God causes sin and then turns to emphasize man’s God given power to choose between good and evil. To claim that God causes someone to sin is not only a rejection of free will, it also would rob God of any basis for punishing evil acts, and so Sirach proceeds to speak about God’s punishment of those who do evil in Sir 16:1-21.
Notes on Sirach 15:15-20:
Sir 15:15. If you will, you can keep the commandments, and to act faithfully is a matter of your own choice (RSVCE).
These (commandments) would never be imposed, if man were not free. (Calmet). The idea here and in what follows is similar to that of Deuteronomy 30:15-20~ “See, I have set before you this day life and good, death and evil. If you obey the commandments of the LORD your God which I command you this day, by loving the LORD your God, by walking in his ways, and by keeping his commandments and his statutes and his ordinances, then you shall live and multiply, and the LORD your God will bless you in the land which you are entering to take possession of it. But if your heart turns away, and you will not hear, but are drawn away to worship other gods and serve them, I declare to you this day, that you shall perish; you shall not live long in the land which you are going over the Jordan to enter and possess. I call heaven and earth to witness against you this day, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse; therefore choose life, that you and your descendants may live, loving the LORD your God, obeying his voice, and cleaving to him; for that means life to you and length of days, that you may dwell in the land which the LORD swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give them.” (RSVCE).
Sir 15:16. He has placed before you fire and water: stretch out your hand for whichever you wish.
A Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture: As further helps God added sanctions to his moral law, rewards for observing it, punishments for breaking it. ‘Water and fire are set before thee, stretch forth thy hand to which thou wilt.’ Water and fire are figures of reward and punishment. Possibly Deut 28-30 was in mind. Cf. Deut 28:11, 12, 21, 24.
Sir 15:17. Before a man are life and death, and whichever he chooses will be given to him.
Sir 15:20 He has not commanded any one to be ungodly, and he has not given any one permission to sin
This repudiates the sinners attempted indictment of God in Sir 15:11-13.