Some Notes Relating to Sirach 15:15-20
Posted by Dim Bulb on February 12, 2011
Verse 14, which is not part of the Sunday reading, can serve as an introduction to it, for it introduces the major theme of the passage, man’s free will and consequent responsibility: “God made man from the beginning, and left him in the hand of his own counsel”. This gift to man, his being in the hand of his own counsel, is one way in which man is the image of God:
Pope St John Paul II~Veritatis Splendour~Taking up the words of Sirach, the Second Vatican Council explains the meaning of that “genuine freedom” which is “an outstanding manifestation of the divine image” in man: “God willed to leave man in the power of his own counsel, so that he would seek his Creator of his own accord and would freely arrive at full and blessed perfection by cleaving to God”.64 These words indicate the wonderful depth of the sharing in God’s dominion to which man has been called: they indicate that man’s dominion extends in a certain sense over man himself. This has been a constantly recurring theme in theological reflection on human freedom, which is described as a form of kingship. For example, Saint Gregory of Nyssa writes: “The soul shows its royal and exalted character… in that it is free and self-governed, swayed autonomously by its own will. Of whom else can this be said, save a king?… Thus human nature, created to rule other creatures, was by its likeness to the King of the universe made as it were a living image, partaking with the Archetype both in dignity and in name”.65
The exercise of dominion over the world represents a great and responsible task for man, one which involves his freedom in obedience to the Creator’s command: “Fill the earth and subdue it” (GN 1,28). In view of this, a rightful autonomy is due to every man, as well as to the human community, a fact to which the Council’s Constitution Gaudium et spes calls special attention. This is the autonomy of earthly realities, which means that “created things have their own laws and values which are to be gradually discovered, utilized and ordered by man”.66
Not only the world, however, but also man himself has been entrusted to his own care and responsibility. God left man “in the power of his own counsel” (SI 15,14), that he might seek his Creator and freely attain perfection. Attaining such perfection means personally building up that perfection in himself. Indeed, just as man in exercising his dominion over the world shapes it in accordance with his own intelligence and will, so too in performing morally good acts, man strengthens, develops and consolidates within himself his likeness to God (Pope John Paul II, Splendor of the Truth, #’s 38-39).
The fact that God placed man in the hand of his own counsel means that man has no excuse for his sins, only responsibility. He cannot blame God: Do not say, “Because of the Lord I left the right way”; for he will not do what he hates. Do not say, “It was he who led me astray”; for he had no need of a sinful man. The Lord hates all abominations, and they are not loved by those who fear him (Sir 15:11-13, RSVCE). Let no man, when he is tempted, say that he is tempted by God. For God is not a tempter of evils: and he tempteth no man (James 1:13, DR).
Sir 15:15. If you will, you can keep the commandments, and to act faithfully is a matter of your own choice (RSVCE).
These (commandments) would never be imposed, if man were not free. (Calmet). The idea here and in what follows is similar to that of Deuteronomy 30:15-20~ “See, I have set before you this day life and good, death and evil. If you obey the commandments of the LORD your God which I command you this day, by loving the LORD your God, by walking in his ways, and by keeping his commandments and his statutes and his ordinances, then you shall live and multiply, and the LORD your God will bless you in the land which you are entering to take possession of it. But if your heart turns away, and you will not hear, but are drawn away to worship other gods and serve them, I declare to you this day, that you shall perish; you shall not live long in the land which you are going over the Jordan to enter and possess. I call heaven and earth to witness against you this day, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse; therefore choose life, that you and your descendants may live, loving the LORD your God, obeying his voice, and cleaving to him; for that means life to you and length of days, that you may dwell in the land which the LORD swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give them.” (RSVCE).
Thus, the New and Old Testaments go together. In the First Reading from Deuteronomy God’s response is: “I command you this day, by loving the Lord your God, by walking in his ways, and by keeping his commandments and his statutes and his ordinances, then you shall live” (Deut 30:16). At first sight we may not like this, but it is the way: the option for life and the option for God are identical. The Lord says so in St John’s Gospel: “This is eternal life, that they know you” (Jhn 17:3).
Human life is a relationship. It is only in a relationship, and not closed in on ourselves, that we can have life. And the fundamental relationship is the relationship with the Creator, or else other relations are fragile. Hence, it is essential to choose God. A world empty of God, a world that has forgotten God, loses life and relapses into a culture of death (Pope Benedict XVI, Meeting with Roman clergy, March 2, 2006).
Sir 15:16. He has placed before you fire and water: stretch out your hand for whichever you wish. (RSVCE)
A Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture: As further helps God added sanctions to his moral law, rewards for observing it, punishments for breaking it. ‘Water and fire are set before thee, stretch forth thy hand to which thou wilt.’ Water and fire are figures of reward and punishment. Possibly Deut 28-30 was in mind. Cf. Deut 28:11, 12, 21, 24.
See Matt, 7:13-14~ “Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is easy, that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life, and those who find it are few (RSVCE).
Sir 15:17. Before a man are life and death, and whichever he chooses will be given to him (RSVCE).
See Ezek 33:10-20~“And you, son of man, say to the house of Israel, Thus have you said: `Our transgressions and our sins are upon us, and we waste away because of them; how then can we live?’ Say to them, As I live, says the Lord GOD, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways; for why will you die, O house of Israel? And you, son of man, say to your people, The righteousness of the righteous shall not deliver him when he transgresses; and as for the wickedness of the wicked, he shall not fall by it when he turns from his wickedness; and the righteous shall not be able to live by his righteousness when he sins. Though I say to the righteous that he shall surely live, yet if he trusts in his righteousness and commits iniquity, none of his righteous deeds shall be remembered; but in the iniquity that he has committed he shall die. Again, though I say to the wicked, `You shall surely die,’ yet if he turns from his sin and does what is lawful and right, if the wicked restores the pledge, gives back what he has taken by robbery, and walks in the statutes of life, committing no iniquity; he shall surely live, he shall not die. None of the sins that he has committed shall be remembered against him; he has done what is lawful and right, he shall surely live. “Yet your people say, `The way of the Lord is not just’; when it is their own way that is not just. When the righteous turns from his righteousness, and commits iniquity, he shall die for it. And when the wicked turns from his wickedness, and does what is lawful and right, he shall live by it. Yet you say, `The way of the Lord is not just.’ O house of Israel, I will judge each of you according to his ways.” (RSVCE)
Sir 15:18 For great is the wisdom of the Lord; he is mighty in power and sees everything;
Sir 15:19 his eyes are on those who fear him, and he knows every deed of man (RSVCE).
See Sirach 16:17-23~Do not say, “I shall be hidden from the Lord, and who from on high will remember me? Among so many people I shall not be known, for what is my soul in the boundless creation? Behold, heaven and the highest heaven, the abyss and the earth, will tremble at his visitation. The mountains also and the foundations of the earth shake with trembling when he looks upon them. And no mind will reflect on this. Who will ponder his ways? Like a tempest which no man can see, so most of his works are concealed. Who will announce his acts of justice? Or who will await them? For the covenant is far off.” This is what one devoid of understanding thinks; a senseless and misguided man thinks foolishly (RSVCE).
Sir 15:20 He has not commanded any one to be ungodly, and he has not given any one permission to sin (RSVCE).
Recapitulates the beginning of the passage, verses 11-13 quoted above.