The first reading from the Book of Sirach, is a paste up of five verses from Sir. 3. Sirach is a long letter as a kind of handbook for a son who setting out into the world and leaving home. The father writes, and so it is addressed to the son, and child is the neutral translation.

The first three verses of the selections focus on humility, the mother of the virtues. Humility is promoted for its benefits: you will be loved, you will find favor with God, and you will be happy with your limits.

Vss. 29-30 are two proverbial sayings that seem unrelated to one another. Vs. 29 adds an additional benefit to the practice of humility: gratitude for the wisdom of others.The NAB heading for vs. 30 is “Alms for the Poor,” suggesting a new thought in the overall letter. With vs. 31, the idea is almost a kind of “karma”, “what goes around, comes around” spirituality, rarely found in the Bible.

The image of water quenching a fire is realistic and practical. The simile connects “flaming fire” with “sin”, something that “burns” a person. “Quenches” is coupled with “atone” in the simile which is to say “puts something out” or “replaces.” In the simile “water” is paired with “almsgiving” suggesting that quenching of the thirst of the poor and needy. Each of the three parts of the simile has a complementary component.

The theology of atonement behind this verse is controversial, suggesting a sort of propitiation of God, persuading God to mercy because of a gift, rather than expiation, which is the work of Christ on the cross. Yet, at the same time, in the practice of reconciliation restorative justice is a fundamental component. After all, our sins are an injustice that consume us and everyone around.

Alan Hartway

Theological Studies at Catholic Theological Union, Chicago IL; Master of Fine Arts, Poetics, at Naropa University, Boulder CO 1996; Master of Arts, Greek Classics, University of Colorado, Boulder CO 2012; Taught at Naropa University from 1999 through 2015; Chair of Interdisciplinary Studies from 2007-2015; Member of the Missionaries of the Precious Blood, Kansas City Province since 1974; Pastor at Guardian Angel Catholic Church, Mead, CO, ministry from 2007-2020 Currently Retired

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