The 8th Sunday in Ordinary Time
First Reading: Sirach 27:4-7
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 92:2-3, 13-16
Second Reading: St. Paul’s 1st Letter to the Corinthians 15:54-58
Gospel: According to St. Luke 6:39-45
Some of the most varied and interesting books in Sacred Scripture are categorized as Wisdom Books. Within this seven-book grouping are writings as varied as Psalms, Job, Song of Songs, and Sirach, the source of this weekend’s Old Testament reading. Sirach, named for its author Jesus ben (“the son of”) Sirach of Jerusalem, is the only Old Testament book that is signed by its author. Because of its frequent use in early Catholic teaching and worship it was given the alternate title of Ecclesiasticus, from the Greek word for Church (Ecclesia).
As is more common with the Wisdom Book than with any other group of writings in the Old Testament, Sirach focuses on the practical aspects of living a good life. Concerning itself with topics such as friendship, money matters, and honor, the Book of Sirach seems more like a text from American Founding Father Ben Franklin than 2nd Century B.C. Jewish sage Yeshua ben Sira.
So why would such a text be so important to the Church? Because it inhabits that very important space where, from a Catholic perspective, logos and Logos meet.
At the beginning of the Gospel of St. John we read one of the most famous lines in all of Sacred Scripture: “In the beginning was the Logos, and the Logos was with God, and the Logos was God.” Usually translated as “word,” the ancient Greek philosophical term logos is one of those nouns like “snow” in Inuit and Yupic, the main branches of the language of the Native North American Eskimos: one simple definition will not suffice. The Liddell and Scott lexicon, the gold standard of Greek-English dictionaries, uses five thousand words in its explanation of the seemingly simple term logos.
Jesus is definitively the “Word” of God, but He is also the personification of the other meanings of logos: logic, reason, natural law, the how-things-fit-together-ness of the Universe. As such, He is foreshadowed in those ways throughout the Old Testament – most obviously at the beginning of Genesis when God creates through the simple act of using words.
Less obviously, but with similar importance, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity is the ground from which springs the writings of (fittingly) Jesus ben Sirach. At the time of the writing of this important Wisdom book the Logos was several centuries away from becoming incarnate, but the logos of Greek philosophy would be well known to an educated Jew of the time. As such, the message of the Book of Ecclesiasticus is filled with logos-talk, and is imbued with the presence and spirit of the Logos. This Sunday’s reading is a stellar example.
When a Christian hears the author state “in tribulation is the test of the just” the mind obviously turns to personal difficulties in life, but also to the Passion and Death of Jesus, the Logos. What greater tribulation has any individual ever endured? Who could claim to be more just than the Logos of God? What better Old Testament reading for the Sunday before the beginning of Lent?
The task of the Christian during Lent is to bind her or himself more closely to the Cross upon which hung the Logos. We do this as a means of being well prepared for the glory of the Resurrection of that same Logos on Easter Sunday. Thanks to this weekend’s words from Yeshua ben Sira we have several days to ponder their meaning prior to Ash Wednesday, and thus can get a good head-start on the Lenten task of aligning the logos of our lives with the One who is the Logos of Life itself.