The next several days of the daily Lectionary features a brief sojourn in one of the Bible’s longest books, Sirach. I don’t know why Sirach isn’t mined more often for Lectionary usage. True, it doesn’t always make the transition from the ancient Middle-East to the modern world. But it is part of the Jewish heritage we all share as Christians. Wise advice is available for those who listen. The following passage appears in the Rite of Penance, number 113, but not in the next two weeks of Lectionary offerings:.
The vengeful will suffer the Lord’s vengeance;
for he remembers their sins in detail.
Forgive your neighbor’s injustice;
then when you pray, your own sins will be forgiven.
Does anyone nourish anger against another
and expect healing from the Lord?
Can one refuse mercy to a sinner like oneself,
yet seek pardon for one’s own sins?
If a mere mortal cherishes wrath,
who will forgive (their) sins?
Remember your last days and set enmity aside;
remember death and decay, and cease from sin!
Remember the commandments and do not be angry with your neighbor;
remember the covenant of the Most High, and overlook faults.
This passage above is from the USCCB site, which is different in some details from the 2001 Lectionary which is part of the 2010 edition of the Rite of Penance. (Hint: the Rite of Penance includes “man” a few times. But it also alters that litany of remembrance in verses 6-7.)
At any rate, note the three parts to this reading. Part 1 (28:1-2) presents the suggestion that God may well turn life upside-down on us. So we act toward others as we hope the final judgment will go for us. The motivation? It’s sort of a reverse beatitude, isn’t it? “Cursed are the vengeful, for they will have vengeance shown them.”
Part 2 (28:3-5) offers three poetic couplets. Reject anger, and we may receive healing. Embrace mercy, and we will receive pardon. If we cherish wrath, we cannot expect forgiveness.
In part 3 (28:6-7) I think the rabbinical urge to “remember” is important. For the believer, the encounter with one’s sin and one’s personal urges to enact revenge is well known. Or it should be. We know to what Christ calls us: forgiveness. We know it, and yet we don’t always live it. So it’s not a matter of learning anything new. We just have to dredge the principle from our Christian memory. We have to remember it. Then live it as if we know it.
When we are broken, we reassemble the building blocks of virtue, holiness, and our past experiences of God. These experiences may be intellectual or personal or liturgical or some combination of the ways in which God breaks through to human beings. In remembering, we re-member: we put limbs on good intentions. We use our legs, arms, and hands to put into action what we, as penitents, might harbor in our hearts. Ben Sira offers the Christian a brief, but powerful reading for reflection when we come before God as a penitent. Reflecting on it, let us remember our finer calling. And then do it.