Thursday, October 23, 2014

Jesus ben Sira on Hanging Out with Rich People and Generosity

Some Jesus ben Sira passages stood out to me yesterday and today.  Allow me to quote  and to comment.

1.    Sirach 13:9-10 states (in the NRSV): “When an influential person invites you, be reserved, and he will invite you more insistently.  Do not be forward, or you may be rebuffed; do not stand aloof, or you will be forgotten.”

These verses are ironic in light of what comes earlier in Sirach 13.  Jesus ben Sira discourages people from associating with those who are mightier or richer than them, and the reason is that the mightier or richer could use that lowly person for their own purposes, and the person would be powerless to do anything about it.  This is actually a theme that has recurred in my reading of Sirach thus far: that it’s better just to stay off of some people’s radar—-for them not to know who you are.  As I read Jesus ben Sira’s cynical description of the rich, I thought of J.R. Ewing on Dallas!  I would rather not be on the radar of someone like him!

But, in vv 9-10, Jesus ben Sira talks about what one should do if one is invited by an influential person.  So now a person can associate with a rich person?  Is there a way to reconcile all this?  Is Jesus ben Sira talking about rich people who are invited by other rich people?  I doubt that, for v 11 says that the invited one should not try to treat the influential person as an equal.  Maybe Jesus ben Sira is not giving us rigid rules but things to think about, in terms of how he understandings the realities of life.

On Jesus ben Sira’s advice in 13:9-10, it just shows how delicate social interaction can be.  One wants to be reserved—-not to appear overly eager.  One does not want to be too forward, for that can be off-putting.  But one also does not want to be aloof, because then one can be forgotten (and I’ve been guilty of both extremes).  One has to walk a fine line!  It’s not easy for everyone!

2.  Sirach 14:5 states (again, in the NRSV): “If one is mean to himself, to whom will he be generous? He will not enjoy his own riches.”

Jesus ben Sira is criticizing being a stingy miser, and he makes the interesting point that one who is not generous to oneself will be less likely to be generous to other people.  I have heard that one cannot love others if one does not love oneself, but I have never thought of this principle in relation to stinginess and generosity.

I can somewhat understand and identify with this principle, for I can envision generosity to self and generosity to others flowing from the same stream (not to mention from a sense that one has enough money to be generous to oneself and others).  I would not treat it as an absolute, since there are plenty of frugal people who give to others, and there are plenty of luxurious people who do not give to others.  In terms of myself, nowadays, I tend to be very frugal, or I try to exercise discipline.  That means that I am not particularly generous to myself or others.  I can beat up on myself for that in this post, but what would be the point?

Sometimes, being frugal actually can help someone else.  I think of trying to save electricity, eating lower on the food chain, or cutting certain things out of one’s diet because of the effects these things have on vulnerable people in the world.  But being a just consumer can also be pretty pricey, in some areas.

Anyway, I thought that Jesus ben Sira has an interesting insight, there.

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