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.