Like all its predecessors, the ACNA daily office lectionary brings us a series of readings from the Ecclesiastical Books towards the end of the year. If you’ve been using the current draft, you’ll be nearing the end of Judith today and tomorrow, and beginning Ecclesiasticus or Sirach on Thursday. As many Anglicans today tend to be under-eductated about these “additional books” listed in Article 6, perhaps it’d be prudent to have a quick preview of what that book is about.
Ecclesiasticus, or more formally, The Wisdom of Jesus ben-Sirach is a wisdom book. It reads a lot like the book of Proverbs, especially the first few chapters of that book which favors discourses of 10-20 verses; Sirach has very few individual proverbs by comparison.
Its first few chapters are largely focused on the benefits of wisdom, frequently using the female personification (Lady Wisdom) introduced in the book of Proverbs. If you read these discourses keeping in mind the traditional interpretation that Jesus is the Wisdom of God, then you’ll find much good fruit to savor in these pages.
There are parts of the book that exalt the Law higher than a Christian should – after all, the New Covenant was not yet known. There are parts of the book that seem elitist, classist, or even misogynist in a couple places – again, its cultural context is very different from ours, and again the New Testament sheds better light on the breaking down of human-imposed barriers.
Starting in chapter 44, the book takes a grant tour of Old Testament history, much like “the hall of faith” in Hebrews 11, except much longer. These chapters highlight the great men of the past, telling of their faithfulness to God and the Wisdom displayed in them and through them. It must be remembered, reading this, that the intention is not to teach history, but to uphold positive role models. The author, ben-Sirach, is not sugar-coating history, but pointing out the good things God’s people should imitate and learn positive lessons from.
Unlike the original Prayer Book lectionary, we’re not going to get to read the whole book. But you will see a decent majority of its contents over the next month or so. Enjoy it! I have found this book very quotable, in my own experience.