Funeral Lectionary: Sirach 18:9-12

Over the years, I’ve worked with many priests and families who bring their own ideas to the choice of funeral readings. I thought I would share today’s section from deep in the book of Sirach, as it seems appropriate, brief, and suitable. This selection is not in the funeral Lectionary. But I think it should be.

The sum of a person’s days is great
  if it reaches a hundred years:
Like a drop of sea water,
  like a grain of sand,
  so are these few years among the days of eternity.
That is why the Lord is patient with us
  and showers upon us his mercy.
The Lord sees and understands
  that our death is grievous,
  so he forgives us all the more.

This brief passage places a human life, even a long one, in the context of a loving and eternal God. In the big picture, one life is not much. And maybe that’s a hard reality to embrace, especially if the person was well-loved. Or famous. This reading is less an ode of praise to a good person than a perspective that the reality of human life and death, next to an all-loving and eternal God, is not so much at all.

The reality is that God is fully aware of who we are, even if we have difficulty grasping the Divine.

There is a long section in Sirach (15:11-18:13) in which the philosopher expounds on human free will, and the inevitability of sin. God cares for his people, despite their wrongdoings. God forgives people, and even chooses to forgive outside the fold of believers. This is really quite an astonishing development in Jewish wisdom, even two centuries before Christ. Perhaps a brief passage can’t communicate the build-up of hundreds of words that preceded it. This is not a feel-good expression of holy mercy. This is not a blank check of mercy. It has a context with a writer, Ben Sira, who is fully cognizant of human failure and sin.

The last verse (18:12) is one of the most tender in all the Bible. God is well aware that we are attached to life, and to the lives of our loved ones. What a thought: that God will be moved by sincere human grief to forgive us so deeply. Sins pile on sins, and yet God’s heart is moved to mercy like a downpouring. I’ll tell you: I want this reading at my funeral.


About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in the Pacific Northwest, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
This entry was posted in Order of Christian Funerals, Scripture. Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to Funeral Lectionary: Sirach 18:9-12

  1. This is wonderful – thank you!

  2. Liam says:

    Ditto. A perfect example of why the lectionary choices for the OCF should not be exclusive, but permit a broader array of Scriptural choices.

  3. Pat says:

    Love this reading. I am planning my own service and this fits nicely. It is tender and humble. It acknowledges the understanding heart of God.

  4. Lindy Ill says:

    Father: I have a question: If a passage is NOT in the Lectionary, can it be read anyway, if we request it? Thank you. Also, thank you for posting these great scriptural passages for funerals. This type of website is exactly what I’ve been looking for!

    • Todd says:

      Hi Lindy,

      Not Father, please, except to my daughter.

      It’s up to your parish priest. If you bring the suggestion to him and your reasons for choosing it, he would probably be among the majority of clergy who would accept the suggestion. Prayers for your situation.

  5. Renata Dowdakin says:

    Hello Todd,
    Can you tell me what source (version of the bible) you are using for this reading of Sirach 18: 7-10? We want to include verses 6-13 at my father’s funeral mass, however I cannot quite match up the translation you are using. I am not confident our priest will let us use it if the reading is cobbled together from different sources.
    Many thanks, both for your response and providing this wonderful website..

    • Todd says:

      Hi Renata, a curious thing … First, I’ve cited verses 9 through 12 here, not 7 to 10. This may be a passage recommended by a priest friend, but since it’s on my site, I’m responsible for the error. I think I’ve posted an adaptation of the NAB. You can find the USCCB-authorized translation of the revised NAB here: and I think this would be the preferred translation for the US.

      • Renata Dowdakin says:

        First, I think I’m the one who had the incorrect verse numbers. Second, thank you for the link…it is exactly what I needed.

      • Renata says:

        I wanted to follow up and thank you for the great resource you have created here. We used the above Old Testament passage as well as 2 Timothy 4:6-8 as our readings. Neither are listed in the approved funeral liturgy provided by the church. Both were ones you recommended as alternate readings. Not only did the priest agree they were very good choices, he did a wonderful job of weaving them into his homily (A “shout out” to Fr. Paul Jeyamani at All Saints in Portland).
        Thanks again!

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