Sirach (Ecclesiasticus) 15:15-20
1 Corinthians 3:1-8
I bet that most of you are familiar with this verse, which is sort of the climax of the book of Deuteronomy:
“I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses.
The book of Deuteronomy is presented as sermons that Moses gave before the Israelites began to enter the “promised land.” Deuteronomy re-states the laws that we also find in Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers, framing them in terms of “How to live in the Promised Land.”
This week, another of our Scriptures to consider comes from the book called “The Wisdom of Jesus ben Sira” or “Sirach” or “Ecclesiasticus”— which is found in Bibles that include “the Apocrypha” (a collection of ancient Jewish books that Martin Luther and the Protestant Reformers usually chose to leave out of Bibles that they published). Reading this today, I feel that it is a wonderful way of thinking about that verse from Deuteronomy.
I offer it here, in case it’s not in your Bible.
11 Do not say, “It was the Lord's doing that I fell away;”
for He does not do what He hates.
12 Do not say, “It was He who led me astray;”
for He has no need of the sinful.
13 The Lord hates all abominations;
such things are not loved by those who fear Him.
14 It was He who created humankind in the beginning,
and He left them in the power of their own free choice.
15 If you choose, you can keep the commandments,
and to act faithfully is a matter of your own choice.
16 He has placed before you fire and water;
stretch out your hand for whichever you choose.
17 Before each person are life and death,
and whichever one chooses will be given.
18 For great is the wisdom of the Lord;
He is mighty in power and sees everything;
19 His eyes are on those who fear him,
and He knows every human action.
20 He has not commanded anyone to be wicked,
and He has not given anyone permission to sin.
“Be good,” our elders told us.
In our gospel lesson for this coming week (Matthew 5:21-37) exaggerates that advice. Jesus says, “Be better than you think you have to be.” We know, from the Ten Commandments, that we must not murder people or commit adultery. But Jesus tells us to go far beyond that, and avoid even speaking harshly to people or allowing ourselves to look on another person with lust. His point grows out of his words that we read last week: "Let your light shine before others so they will see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.” The behavior of people who claim to follow Jesus ought to reflect the extreme goodness of Jesus. And that’s a tall order.
All of the talk about being good might make us feel hopeless, as we keep messing up. Another Bible verse that most of us can quote comes from
St. Paul (Romans 3:23): "All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” But Paul went on to explain that God freely forgives us as we continue to try to follow Jesus as faithfully as we possibly can.
Jesus calls us to keep on trying to be better than we have to be. But he also tells us that he will forgive us over and over again as we need it.
Being good is a sign that we are on God’s team. It also brings rewards: Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, loving the LORD your God, obeying him, and holding fast to Him.... -Deuteronomy 30:19-20