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  • Writer's pictureDeacon Bob Evans

Make a Difference in Our Times


Sirach by Julius von Carolsfeld, 1853

Hostility, anger, division; it’s not by chance that we hear the words of Sirach for the First Reading on the 24th Sunday of Ordinary Time. It was about the year 185 BC and the Jewish rabbi, Joshua Ben Sira, whose Greek name was Sirach, took his ministry to the streets and marketplaces of Jerusalem.

The Hellenists brought a very secular worldview into the lives of the people.

At the time, Israel was under the control of the Greek Empire. The ruling Greeks, then known as Hellenists, brought a very secular worldview into the lives of the people. The many who embraced this “informed” way of thinking were known as Hellenized Jews. They were abandoning the synagogues in droves. And it involved more than religion, it affected public discourse as well.

The Hellenists had their gods, but to them right conduct was not governed by religious values but by philosophical values based on individual freedom. This was having disastrous effects on behavior, especially among the young and impressionable. It even influenced the running of the Temple in Jerusalem. The people were seriously divided over traditional religion and contemporary culture. Hostility, anger, and division abounded.

So, as I said, Sirach took his ministry out to the people and did his best to convince them that real wisdom is in God, not in the prevailing thinking of the day. Hostile response to one another would not right the situation. He correctly pointed out: “Does anyone nourish anger against another and expect healing from the Lord?” [Sir 28:3]. He couldn’t have said it any plainer. Sadly, very few took Sirach’s advice and within less than 20 years after the words of our First Reading were spoken, there was a massive rebellion against the Hellenists and their influence that brought chaos for many years. 1

It’s remarkable how similar the unrest Sirach faced in his day to what we confront today.

It’s remarkable how similar the unrest Sirach faced in his day to what we confront today. We too have serious division between traditional values and contemporary culture. The difference in ideology between those who uphold traditional values and those who promote morality based on personal freedom gets wider and wider. It is upsetting to even common civility. We too encounter, almost every day, conflict and hostile responses to one another. There is much to be learned from Sirach’s words and the context in which he spoke. Certainly, we must speak up for the truths we believe in, but as Sirach pointed out, “anger is a hateful thing” [Sir 27:30a]. So, we must avoid getting into arguments. Hostility only breeds more hostility.

Notice that while the passage from Sirach cautions us on what to avoid, it does not suggest what we can do. For what was possible and appropriate in Sirach’s time was quite different that what’s possible and appropriate in our time. For example, if we have children in school, we need to be actively engaged in what they are being taught. But there were no schools for children in Sirach’s day.

There’s an important difference between “looking for trouble”

and being observant, being engaged.

There’s an important difference between “looking for trouble” and being observant, being engaged. It matters who our children and grandchildren are associating with and how it affects their behavior. It matters, what causes our employers and merchants support for that shows what principles they really value.

And the most important tool we have to affect change, that the people of Sirach’s time did not have, is the ballot box. We “institutionalize” the thinking and values of those we vote into power. We get what we collectively vote for. And, just about every candidate is backed by some special interest and it’s their values that will prevail if and when their candidate is elected.

We have a chance to make a difference in our times.

As I said, the cultural divide of our time is remarkably like that of Sirach’s time. He did his best to convince people that real wisdom is in God, not in the prevailing thinking of the day. The people of his time did not pay much attention to his advice, and we know the outcome, an armed rebellion. But we have a chance to make a difference in our times if we will just seek out the wisdom of God, be observant, fact-check what we hear, get involved and support what is true - without being drawn into argument. We don’t have to go down that same road the people of Sirach’s time did. We, all, can and must make a difference in our times, while we still can.

‘Till next time,

Dcn Bob Evans

Sept 17, 2023

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1. In 167 BC, there was a clandestine attack by traditionalists, later called Maccabees, on some Greek officials and a group of Hellenized Jews in the town of Modi’in, a few miles west of Jerusalem. Soon these attacks spread throughout Judea and a full-scale revolt was underway. In 164 BC, the Maccabees gained control of Jerusalem and held it for four years until the Greek army regained Jerusalem and imposed marshal law in the city. The Maccabees continued to hold most of the countryside. It wasn’t until 152 BC that the Maccabees regained Jerusalem driving out the Greeks and their Hellenist influence. So, an inability to restrain hostility resulted in more than 15 years of armed conflict between those who held to traditional values and the Hellenists and those who embraced the Hellenist culture. Over those years, there were many military-style battles, but there were also many times when it was neighbor against neighbor. There is no reliable estimate of how many lives were lost in the fighting.

Scripture references

Sirach 27:30-28:7

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