In a letter to a friend, Thomas Jefferson once wrote, “I have ever judged of the religion of others by their lives. . . . for it is in our lives that our religion must be read.” One might think that Jefferson had just reflected on the readings for this Sunday’s liturgy, and summarized them in the same pithy, proverbial style of the first reading from Sirach.
The Book of Sirach, also known as Ecclesiasticus, is part of the collection of Wisdom literature in Scripture. It was always revered for it teachings, but was not included in the Canon of the Latin Scriptures until the mid-16th century. Wisdom literature sought to teach the art of living, imbuing a sense of what is possible in life if one serves God and enjoys the gifts of God. True wisdom was seen as a gift of God, and it was evidenced in loving service of God. The excerpt from Sirach today is quite brief, but the teaching is very clear: if you are wise, you will be purified through tribulation, you will be true to the core of your being, to the heart, and your words will reflect your true self. The responsorial psalm echoes this teaching: the just one will flourish, and those planted in the house of the Lord shall flourish in the courts of our God.
In the Gospel it is Jesus who assumes the role of the wise teacher (Christ, the Wisdom of God) and speaks in the same proverbial style. The parable about the blind leading the blind was aimed at the Pharisees who pretended to lead the people to holiness but were blind to the teachings of Jesus. Jesus adds four more parables, all aimed at teaching the true meaning of discipleship, the need to be grounded in truth and goodness. There can be no hypocrisy. There must be consistency between what one says and what one does. Exterior words and actions will only be good if the inward source from which they come is good. “A good person out of the store of goodness in his heart produces good.”
The wisdom handed down to us from Sirach, Paul, and Jesus is a sacred heritage, the way of discipleship. Christianity becomes alive through the witness of our faith, and in a personal transparency that allows a glimpse at the Christ within us. Let us hope that, in the words of Jefferson, our religion will be read in our lives.
-Regina Murphy, SSMN
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