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Background~Sirach 24:1-32:13 is generally taken as forming a literary unit. The unit opens with a praise of wisdom in two parts (Sir 24:1-22; 23-29). In the first part (Sir 24:1-22) wisdom is personified and speaks about herself. In the second part the authors chimes in with his own praises, identifying wisdom with the Law (Sir 24:23). He describes the wisdom embodied in the Law in terms of abundant, life-giving waters: the four rives of Eden, along with the Jordan and Nile (Sir 24:25-27). He then notes that the first man (Adam) did not fully comprehend wisdom, anymore than the last man will succeed in doing, for she is deeper than the sea, the great abyss (Sir 24:28-29).
The praise of wisdom ends and the author then takes up the life-giving water image and applies it to himself as a seeker and holder of wisdom. Just as a channel or irrigation ditch can deliver the life-giving waters of a river to a garden where it is needed (Ps 1:2-3), so did Sirach deliver his teaching to his immediate disciples, described as his orchard and garden. But we are dealing with abundant, fruitful wisdom, and so his little canal of wisdom became a torrent, a deep sea, thus enabling him to extend the flood of wisdom further and further (Sir 24:30-34). Thus Sirach 24:1-31 constitutes an introduction to the unit. The rest of the unit (Sir 25:1-32:13) is taken up with practical matters concerning how one ought to conduct oneself in family and society.
Since it would be rather lengthy for me to detail the remaining content of the unit, I will here simply direct the readers attention to the various sectional footnotes in the NAB (please note that the NABRE does not contain them): See the footnotes on 25:1-11; 25:12-25; 26:1-19; 26:20-27:15; 27:16-28:11; 28:12-26; 29:1-20; 29:21-28; 30:1-13; 30:14-25; 31:1-11; 31:12-32:13.
Immediate Context~Sirach 27:16-28:11 forms the immediate context from which today’s reading is taken. The primary concern of these verses is to highlight the dangers to personal integrity and friendship. The betrayal of secrets can ruin a friendship, and very well might make reconciliation with the injured party impossible (Sir 27:16-21). Insincerity of conduct towards those you are having discourse with, and the twisting of their word into a meaning not intended by them, is reprehended by Sirach, and he insists that the Lord hates such a man (sir 27:22-24). In typical Old Testament fashion Sirach 27:25-29 speaks of the inexorable law of retribution: what goes around comes around. It is at this point that today’s reading, Sirach 27:30-28:7 begins.
Sir 27:30. Anger and wrath, these also are abominations, and the sinful man will possess them.
Sir 28:1. He that takes vengeance will suffer vengeance from the Lord, and he will firmly establish his sins.
Anger and wrath are things directed towards other people. In spite of the fact that retribution will come upon the wicked eventually, they continue to maintain their hold on it.
The sinful man will possess them. The evil man may come to “possess” anger and wrath as a recipient of such things; either from men in this life, or from God at the judgment. The latter (from God) is more likely the meaning here in light of the exiplicit statement in 28:1, and the reference to his not knowing where retribution comes from in Sirach 27:27.
Sir 28:2 Forgive your neighbor the wrong he has done, and then your sins will be pardoned when you pray.
Sir 28:3 Does a man harbor anger against another, and yet seek for healing from the Lord?
Sir 28:4 Does he have no mercy toward a man like himself, and yet pray for his own sins?
Sir 28:5 If he himself, being flesh, maintains wrath, who will make expiation for his sins?
Verse 2 should certainly call to mind the sixth petition of the Lord’s prayer, and verses 3-5 serve as commentary, while at the same time highlighting the hypocrisy of seeking reconciliation with God when still at enmity with your neighbor. Betrayal of friends (Sir 27:16-21) and insincerity of conduct (Sir 27:22-23) are both examples of such hypocrisy. The end result of the evil man’s hypocrisy towards his fellow man is treating God in the same base fashion.
Sir 28:6 Remember the end of your life, and cease from enmity, remember destruction and death, and be true to the commandments.
Sir 28:7 Remember the commandments, and do not be angry with your neighbor; remember the covenant of the Most High, and overlook ignorance