The Book of Ecclesiasticus (Wisdom of Sirach) by Ben Sira of Jerusalem is a deuterocanonical book written around 200 to 175 BCE). It is seen as a collection of ethical teachings. Thus Ecclesiasticus closely resembles Proverbs, except that, unlike the latter, it is presented as the work of a single author. The teachings are applicable to all conditions of life: to parents and children, to husbands and wives, to the young, to masters, to friends, to the rich, and to the poor. Many of them are rules of courtesy and politeness; and a still greater number contain advice and instruction as to the duties of man toward himself and others, especially the poor, as well as toward society and the state, and most of all toward God.
Today, in the First Reading (Ecclesiasticus 2:1-11) we are presented with the advice of a parent to his child about service to God and the challenges that comes with it: “My son, if you aspire to serve the Lord, prepare yourself for an ordeal. Be sincere of heart, be steadfast, and do not be alarmed when disaster comes…” Here the author also speaks of accepting patiently whatever happens in the course of this holy service, since gold is tested in the fire, and chosen men tested in the furnace of humiliation. The author recommends “Trust and hope” as the essential human values that must define our interdependence in relating to God for He surely upholds those who trust in him.
In consonance with the foregoing, by the second announcement of his suffering and death in the Mark’s gospel as seen in today’s Gospel Reading (Mark 9:30-37), Jesus, in preparing himself and the minds of his disciples for the “great ordeal”, made known his model of service to the point of death once more; just as a gold is tested in fire, Jesus made it clear that he would pass through the furnace of humiliation, suffering and death, in order to attain the glory of his resurrection. The disciples did not understand the message, on the contrary, they dreamt of power (who the greatest among them was), they did not want to face the ordeal of serving God. With the example of a little child (humility and service), Jesus instilled a newness in them; that every practice that seeks to be superior to others and wanting to dominate them is totally out of God’s plan.
Dear friends in Christ, Jesus never deceives. He told his disciples the truth about his Passion; the mystery of the Cross is set out starkly. He did not want them to get carried away by the image of a glorious Messiah, a wonder-worker. The ambition that pleases God is shown by humble service to others. Greatness is found not in lording it over other people, but in being the servant of the most insignificant people in society – the poor, the weak, the forgotten, and the despised. Therefore, in warning his disciples about his passion, he always adds his resurrection. In the gospels, there is no passion without resurrection. Suffering and death are linked solidly to life after death. The two are opposite sides of the one coin. Evil plays out its role and is finally encompassed by eternal life and joy. God has the last word: divine love conquers all. The trusting nature of a child may have been an invitation to them to trust in Jesus even though the future was full of uncertainties. In prayer we can ask for the gift of this sort of trust for our own future, as the Psalmist (Psalm 36(37):3-4,18-19,27-28,39-40) puts it “Commit your life to the Lord, trust him and he will act”, and those who trust in Him shall not be put to shame in evil days.
©Rev. Fr. Chinaka J. Mbaeri, OSJ