51. WISDOM AND NONSENSE. The two ways

The two ways

1. It is a stage of the biblical history. The wise men appear after the exile, when “there are no more prophets” (Ps 74). The wise men follow the prophets. They are above all worried about how to behave to obtain the true happiness. They invite to go often into the Wisdom home, they write wisdom books; for instance, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Wisdom, Ecclesiastic. They live a great biblical experience that can be formulated as follows: God´s wisdom is useful to confront life ordinary problems. Once and again, we must choose between wisdom and silliness, we are in the crossroads of two ways (Ps 1).

2. Among the wisdom books, Ecclesiastic or Sirácida is perhaps the highest peak. During the first centuries, it is often used in the catechesis and in the liturgy.  It is due to this, because of its use in the Church, that Cyprians (160 – 258) names it Ecclesiastic. In some way, it is a catechism, an instrument for catechesis. It does not speculate, but it goes directly to the experience. The book is composed in Jerusalem about the year 180 b. C. Greek culture is in the environment. It is necessary to maintain the believer’s identity amidst a society that is not so.

3. The author is Jesus, Sirá ´s son (Sir 50, 27). In the prologue one of his grandsons says: “My grandfather Jesus, after being intensely dedicated to the reading of the law, the prophets and other books of the ancestors, and having acquired a deep knowledge, intended to write himself also something about instruction and wisdom, with the purpose that the friends of knowledge, accept and progress still more in the life according to the law” (7 – 14). Fifty years later, the grandson, living in Alexandria, finds a valuable heritance: the grandfather’s papers. He translates them from Hebrew to Greek and he publishes them about the year 132 b. C. (27 – 35). And that is how they reach us.

4. Let us see some features of this great biblical experience: God´s wisdom is related to every day problems. Wisdom is sowed in creation, also in human life, it is the providence that leads history, it is useful for living: “ The Lord himself created it, told it and spilled it upon all his works” (1, 9), “among the men he placed his nest” (1, 15), “the principle of wisdom is the fear to God” (1, 14), “the fear to God is glory and honour, pleasure and jubilation crown” (1, 11), “if you desire the wisdom, keep the commandments” (1, 26), “He ordered them to abstain from any idolatry and he gave them precepts about the neighbour” (17, 14; see Lk 18, 20).

5. It is a personification. Wisdom presents herself: “I came out from the mouth of God and covered the face of the earth like a mist; although my dwelling place is in the highest heavens, my throne is within a pillar of cloud. I alone have seen and understood the vault of the skies and strolled through the depths of the abyss, taking possession of the raging sea and of the earth as well, with all its peoples and nations. In all of these, I looked for a place to rest; in which territory would I set up my abode? Then the creator of the universe commanded me, he who created me assigned the place of my rest, “Pitch your tent in Jacob.” (24, 3 – 8). Wisdom shows beautiful in very concrete realities: “Three things delight me and are delightful to God and people: agreement between brothers, friendship between neighbours, and perfect harmony between husband and wife” (25, 1). It is a pressing invitation: “Join the assembly of the elders” (6, 34), “come near and sit down in the house of instruction” (51, 23)

6. Wisdom is a girlfriend who is sought: the suitor “peeps in at her windows and listens at her doors” (14, 23); she is a mother who protects: “She will come out to meet him like a mother” (15, 2), “He places his sons beneath her protection and finds shelter beneath her branches.”(14, 26); she is a wife who shelters: “she greets him like a virgin bride” (15, 2); she is a housewife who invites to a banquet: “Come and eat my bread, drink the wine I have mixed” (Pr 9, 5); she gives rest and enjoyment: “For, in the end, you will find in her your rest and she will become your joy.” (Sir 6, 28); she is a precious heritance, she delivers happiness: “Wisdom brings up her children and takes care of those who look for her…  He who listens to her will have good judgment. He who obeys her will rest in safety. Whoever trusts in her will possess her and his children after him will inherit her. For in the beginning she will lead him by rough paths… and she will put him to the test by her demands. Then she will lead him on a level path, give him joy and reveal her secrets to him.”(4, 11-18), “happy the man who is intent on wisdom” (14, 20)

7. It is important to trust in God amidst the test: “My son, if you have decided to serve the Lord, prepare yourself for trials. Keep your heart upright and remain resolute; do not be upset in the time of adversity… For as gold is tested in the fire, so those acceptable to God are tested in the crucible of humiliation. Have confidence in him and he will take care of you; follow the right path and hope in him” (2, 1 -6; see 1 P 1, 6 -7), “Remain faithful to your duty, give your life to it and grow old in your work” (11, 20), “even when the end draws near, it is easy for the Lord to reward a man according to the way he has lived” (11, 26).

8. Duties to accomplish with the parents. The parents are in the root of the life: “Whoever honours his father atones for his sins; he who gives glory to his mother prepares a treasure for himself”, “a father’s blessing secures the future of his children, but a mother’s curse destroys them at their roots”, “my child, take care of your father in his old age, do not cause him sorrow as long as he lives. Even if he has lost his mind, have patience; do not be disrespectful to him while you are in full health” (3, 3 -13), “honour your father with your whole heart and do not be forgetful of the sufferings of your mother; remember that they gave you birth” (7, 27 – 28)

9. Humility is fundamental in human relationship: “The greater you are, the more you should humble yourself and thus you will find favour with God For great is the power of the Lord and it is the humble who give him glory. Do not seek what is beyond your powers … Do not run to heal the wound of the proud man. For the sufferings of the proud man there is no remedy, the roots of evil are implanted in him.” (3, 18 – 28), “he who speaks too much makes himself hated; he who wishes to impose himself stirs up ill will.” (20, 8)

10. God´s wisdom asks for social justice. There are sins that claim to heaven: “My son, do not deny the poor his food and do not make the man who looks at you with pleading eyes wait… Deliver the oppressed from the hands of the oppressor. Do not be weak when you administer justice.  Be like a father towards orphans.” (4, 1 -10), “God is not partial against the poor man; the prayer of the humble person pierces the clouds” (35, 16 – 17)

11. The wisdom is compassionate; she invites to cry with those who are crying, to visit the sick: “Do not turn away from those who weep, and grieve with those who are in sorrow. Do not neglect to visit the sick because it is for such acts that you will be loved.” (7, 34 – 35)

12. God´s wisdom has something to do with the children’s education: “Have you sons? Educate them and teach them to obey from their childhood. Have you any daughters? Take care of them” (7, 23 – 24), “Your daughter is unruly? Watch her well” (42, 11). The way it appears, this raises some questions: the education is only for the sons? Which care is supposed for the daughters? The watch is reinforced only for the daughters? Sons and daughters are equal? Are they different?

13. Sirach assumes without any critic the submission of the woman (to the father, to the husband) existing in the old world: “If you marry off your daughter you will have accomplished something of importance, but give her to an intelligent man” (7, 25). Besides, it warns against the woman with a partial and tendentious topic: “For sin in the world began with woman” (25, 24). It is, really, man’s accusation, who blames the woman (Gn 3, 12). Nevertheless, Paul sets the counterpoint: “Sin entered the world through one man” (Rm 5, 12; see Wis 2, 24 and the catechesis “The origin of evil”, “Dependence relationship”, “Woman in the society and in the Church”)

14. Before the strange and the wicked caution and prudence is advised: “Do not invite just anybody into your house for many are clever deceivers…like a spy he watches out for your weaknesses… Beware of the wicked man for he is planning evil. He might dishonour you forever. If you take a stranger into your house, he will cause you trouble; he will estrange you from your household” (11, 29 – 34). In the spirit of the Gospel, not without discernment, it goes much further: “When to the strange we call brother, God himself goes in our own way”

15. The faithful friend is a treasure: “The faithful friend is a secure refuge; whoever has found one has found a treasure. A faithful friend is beyond all price; hold him as priceless. A faithful friend is a life-saving remedy, and those who fear the Lord will find one. Whoever fears the Lord will make true friends for, as a man is, such will his friend be” (6, 14 – 17)

16. Nobody can trust the enemy: “An enemy does not remain hidden in the time of adversity... Even if he should act as a humble man… watch yourself and be on your guard against him. Behave to wards him as a man who polishes a bronze mirror. Know that the rust will not remain until the end. Do not place him near you lest he overthrow you and take your place. Do not make him sit on your right hand… Who will have pity on the snake-charmer bitten by a snake? (12, 8 – 13). In the spirit of the Gospel, not without discernment, we are invited to go further more (Mt 5, 39 – 47)

17. We are free, also responsible: “Do not say, “It was God who made me sin.” God does not cause what he hates. Do not say, “He made me do wrong,” for he has nothing to do with a sinner. The Lord hates all evil and those who fear him hate it as well. When he created man in the beginning, he left him free to make his own decisions. If you wish, you can keep the commandments” (15, 11 – 15)

18. About the lending and the deposit: “Learn to lend to your neighbour when he is in need and, in turn, repay him any loan on time… Many think of a loan as a quick deal and put those who help them in a fix” (29, 2 – 4), “A good man goes surety for his neighbour; the scoundrel leaves him to his fate… Do not forget the favours of your guarantor: he has risked his life for you. The sinner wastes his guarantor’s money; the ungrateful man forgets the one who saved him. Acting as guarantor has ruined many a good man and has tossed him like the waves of the sea.” (29, 14 – 17)

19. On sexual matters heavy loads are not thrown upon people’s back (Mt 23, 4); it goes to the essentials. About the adultery: “The man unfaithful to the marriage bed who thinks like this, “Who sees me? ...  He does not realize that the Lord’s eyes are a thousand times brighter than the sun… In the same way, the woman who is unfaithful to her husband and gives him an heir by another man. (23, 18 – 22). About prostitution and fornication: “Do not go near a woman of ill-repute for fear of falling into her nets” (9, 3), “Be ashamed of licentiousness” (41, 17)

20. About personal independence and the inheritance: “Neither to son, wife, brother nor friend give power over yourself during your life. As long as you live and there is breath in you, do not give power over yourself to anyone. It is preferable for your children to be dependent on you, than that you be obliged to depend on them. Be master of all that you do; let not others stain your reputation. Wait until the end of your days, until death is near, to distribute your inheritance” (33, 20 – 24)

21. Riddles, auguries and dreams: “Dreams give the foolish wings… Divinations, omens and dreams are empty like the fantasies of a woman in labour. Unless they come as messengers of the Most High, do not pay attention to them. For dreams have led many people astray. Those who hoped in them have fallen” (34, 1 -7). “Dreams are dreams”, as Calderon said, but some of them have message; in order not to be deceived, it is necessary to discern.

22. Unjust sacrifices do not please God: “An offering to God from stolen goods is a stained offering; the sacrifices of the wicked do not please God. The Most High takes no pleasure in the offering of the godless. It is not the number of victims that obtains pardon for sin. Bread is life to the poor; he who takes it from them is a murderer. He who deprives others of a livelihood kills them, and who ever withdraw the salary of a worker is guilty of blood.” (34, 18 – 22). Bartolomé de las Casas bumped into this reading in the moment of his conversion.

23. Prayer for renovation: “Have mercy on us… Give new signs, do fresh wonders, stretch out your hand and be glorified in your strength… Reward those who wait for you and fulfill the words of your prophets.  Hear the prayer of your servants, Lord” (36, 1 – 16; see Acts 4, 29 – 31)

24. Discernment is always necessary: “The stomach takes in all kinds of food but one food is better than another. Just as the tongue can distinguish the flavour of game, so does the alert mind detect lies. A crooked heart causes sorrow, but an experienced person knows how to get even with him. (36, 18 – 20)

25. The election of woman: “Happy the husband of a good wife, the number of his days will be doubled” (26, 1), “woman’s beauty rejoices people and is beyond all that could be wished for. If she is kindly-spoken and gentle he is the most fortunate of men.” The woman is “a help similar to him and a support column” (36, 22 – 23). Nevertheless, Sirac also reflects here the situation of the woman in the ancient world: “A woman will accept any husband” (36, 21). May she not make any election? Is she some thing that can be acquired or purchased? Does she become her husband’s property? : “When a man marries he acquires the beginning of a fortune” (36, 24)

26. The counsellors: “Never act without a counsel, and you will have no regrets” (32, 19). But, “your counsellors, one in a thousand!” (6, 6), “all advisers give advice but some seek only their own gain. Distrust the person who offers advice; first of all, ask yourself what he lacks… but go to a trustworthy man whom you know to be a keeper of the commandments, whose soul reflects your own and who will suffer with you, if you fail. In the end, keep to your own heart’s advice, since no one deserves to be trusted more than your heart… Besides all this, implore the Al mighty to guide your steps in the truth” (37, 7 – 15)

27. Medicine an illness. It is common sense, the doctor is there to do something: “Give due honour to the doctor for his services... when you are sick do not be anxious; pray to the Lord to heal you…  then consult the doctor… there are cases when good health depends on doctors. They, too, will pray to the Most High to grant them success in healing in order to save your life. May he who sins before his Maker, fall into the hands of the doctor! (38, 1 – 15)

28. Grieving and death: “My son, weep for the dead… and observe the period of mourning in accordance with the merits of the deceased. Let it be for one or two days, and so avoid criticism, and then be consoled in your grief… you do the dead no good, but rather harm yourself. (38, 16 – 21).“Death! What a bitter thought for someone who lives happily among his possessions… Nevertheless, your sentence, Death, is welcome to a needy person whose strength is failing, who is old, worn out, and full of worries; to one who is angry and without hope! (41, 1 – 2)

29. The wise man or scribe interprets the Scriptures: “A law student acquires wisdom during his leisure hours; free from business he is capable of becoming wise” (38, 24), “he examines the wisdom of the sages in times past and in his free time he studies prophecies, he keeps in mind what people of renown have said and penetrates the mystery of parables.  He searches for the inner meaning of proverbs…  he travels in foreign lands and he has experience of both the good and the evil in mankind. Early in the morning his heart is set on turning to the Lord… as long as he lives his name will be more glorious than a thousand others, and when he dies that fame will be enough. (39, 1 – 11)

30. After recalling God´s glory in nature (42, 15 – 43, 33), the ancestors are praised. Among them, Abraham, Moses, Samuel, David, Solomon, Elijah, Eliseo, Isaiah, priest Simon (44, 1 – 50, 21). It attracts attention that all of them are men, where are the women whose praises sings the Scriptures?

31. The author of Sirach is the last link of a chain (8, 9), as one who gleans after the harvesters (33, 16), like channel that allows the water to flow: “I, for my part, went forth like a brook from a river… I thought, “Let me irrigate my orchard and water my flowers. But now my brook has grown into a river and the river, into a sea” (24, 30 – 31), “may my teaching shine forth like the dawn; may I carry its light to faraway places. I even will spread my teaching like a prophecy and leave it to future generations. See, all of you that I have not worked only for me, but for all those who seek wisdom.(24, 32 – 34) At the end, it is said: “Happy the one who pays attention to this teaching and gains wisdom by taking it to heart.” (50, 28)

32. Jesus presents himself as God´s wisdom: “Come to me…” (Mt 11, 28; Jn 7, 37 – 38), he invites to a table: “Take and eat”, “take and drink” (Mt 26, 26 -28), but not only this. Jesus is God´s wisdom (1 Co 1, 24). It was necessary for God to talk clearly, with human words: “God´s word became flesh”, he made himself man (Jn 1, 14), “Sacrifices and oblations you did not desire, but you have prepared me a body” (Ps 40). Unknown by a lost generation, he is sheltered by those docile to God: “God´s wisdom has been justified by hies children” (Lk 7, 35), “by his works” (Mt 11, 19)

33. Jesus thanks his Father because the Gospel is understood by the little ones: “I bless you Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things to wise and clever men, and you have revealed them to little ones” (Mt 11, 25). The disciples have a wisdom that can not contradict the adversaries (Lk 21, 15). The adversaries are the scribes and Pharisees: “And so I am sending you prophets, sages and teachers, but you will murder and crucify them, and flog others in the synagogues or drive them from one city to another. Because of this you will be accountable for all the innocent blood that has been shed on the earth, from the blood of upright Abel to the blood of Zechariah, son of Barachiah, whom you murdered between the altar and the Sanctuary. Truly, I say to you: the present generation will pay for all this” (Mt 23, 34 – 36).

34. The Gospel, God´s wisdom, crashes with the world’s wisdom, it is to say, with the Jewish and the Greek mentalities. In that fight, Paul announces the Gospel “not with wise words, so that not to distort Christ’s cross”, “because as Scripture says: I will destroy the wisdom of the wise and make fail the foresight of the foresighted.  Where is the wise man? Where is the erudite? Where the sophist of this world? Is it not true that God besotted the world’s wisdom? In fact, God spoke the language of wisdom, and the world did not know God through wisdom. Then God thought of saving the believers through the foolishness that we preach. So, while the Jews ask for miracles and the Greeks for a higher knowledge, while we proclaim a crucified Messiah. For the Jews, what a great scandal! And for the Greeks, what nonsense! But he is Christ, the power of God and the wisdom of God for those called by God among both Jews and Greeks” (1 Co 1, 17 – 24)

- God´s wisdom is useful to confront the ordinary problems of life
- It is necessary to elect between wisdom and silliness; they are two ways
- Like channel that allows the water to flow through
- I even will throw the teaching like prophecy
- Jesus is God´s wisdom
- God´s wisdom and world’s wisdom

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