Filled with the Holy Spirit, Jesus returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil.
He fasted for forty days and forty nights, and afterward, he was hungry.
The tempter approached and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command that these stones become loaves of bread.”
Jesus said in reply, “It is written: ‘One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes forth from the mouth of God.’”
Here, the tempter tries to utilize the cravings of the flesh, namely hunger as Jesus was starving.
For the Roman Catholics, the definition of Lent varies according to different documents.
The official document on the Lenten season, Paschales Solemnitatis, says: “the first Sunday of Lent marks the beginning of the annual Lenten observance” – representing a period of 40 days.
The Universal Norms on the Liturgical Year and the Calendar say: “The forty days of Lent run from Ash Wednesday up to but excluding the Mass of the Lord’s Supper exclusive“, representing a period of 44 days.
Both the above-mentioned sources agree that Lent ends on the evening of Holy Thursday, before the Mass of the Lord’s Supper.
Historically, the season of Lent has varied from a week to three weeks to the present configuration of 46 days when we count all the days from Ash Wednesday through Holy Saturday. The Sundays of Lent are certainly part of the “Time of Lent”, but to reconcile this with the phrase “forty days of fasting“, they are not prescribed days of fast and abstinence. It would be more accurate if we say “forty days fast within Lent.“
In the traditional doctrine of Christian spirituality, a constituent part of repentance, of turning away from sin and back to God, includes some form of penance. The Catholic Church has specified certain forms of penance to ensure that the Catholic will do something as required by divine law while making it easy for them to fulfill the obligation. Thus, the 1983 Code of Canon Law specifies the obligations of Latin Rite Catholics.
Canon 1250: All Fridays through the year and the time of Lent are penitential days and times throughout the entire Church.
Canon 1251: Abstinence from eating meat or another food according to the prescriptions of the conference of bishops is to be observed on Fridays throughout the year unless they are solemnities; abstinence and fast are to be observed on Ash Wednesday and on the Friday of the Passion and Death of Our Lord Jesus Christ.
Canon 1252: All who have completed their fourteenth year are bound by the law of abstinence. All adults are bound by the law of fast up to the beginning of their sixtieth year. Nevertheless, pastors and parents are to see to it that minors who are not bound by the law of fast and abstinence are educated in an authentic sense of penance.
Canon 1253: It is for the conference of bishops to determine more precisely the observance of fast and abstinence and to substitute in whole or in part for fast and abstinence other forms of penance, especially works of charity and exercises of piety.
Thus, the Church has two forms of official penitential practices – three if the Eucharistic fast before Communion is included.
The law of abstinence requires all Catholics who are 14 years old and older to be bound by the law of abstinence until death to abstain from eating meat on all Fridays that are not Solemnities in honor of the Passion of Jesus on Good Friday.
Meat is considered to be the flesh and organs of mammals and fowl and moral theologians have traditionally forbidden the consumption of soups or gravies made from them.
Salt and freshwater species of fish, amphibians, reptiles and shellfish are permitted, as are animal-derived products such as gelatin, butter, cheese, and eggs that do not have any taste of meat.
When solemnities, such as the Annunciation, Assumption, All Saints etc. fall on a Friday, Catholics do not abstain or fast.
During Lent abstinence from meat on Fridays is obligatory, and is considered a sin not to observe this discipline without a serious reason such as physical labor, pregnancy, sickness etc.
The practice of fasting before Easter developed gradually, and with considerable diversity of practice regarding duration. In the latter part of the second century, there were differing opinions not only regarding the manner of the paschal fast, but also the proper time for keeping Easter.
In 331, St. Athanasius urged his flock to follow a period of forty days of fasting preliminary to, but not inclusive of, the stricter fast of Holy Week.
In 339, after having traveled to Rome and over the greater part of Europe, St. Athanasius wrote in the strongest terms to urge this observance of fasting upon the people of Alexandria as one that was universally practiced, “to the end that while all the world is fasting, we who are in Egypt should not become a laughing-stock as the only people who do not fast but take our pleasure in those days”.
During the time of Gregory the Great (590–604), there were apparently at Rome six weeks of six days each, making thirty-six fast days in all. St. Gregory describes the thirty-six fast as the spiritual tithing of the year, since thirty-six days being approximately the tenth part of three hundred and sixty-five. At a later date the wish to realize the exact number of forty days led to the practice of beginning Lent on Ash Wednesday.
The law of fasting requires a Catholic from the 18th Birthday [Canon 97] to the 59th Birthday [i.e. the beginning of the 60th year, a year which will be completed on the 60th birthday] to reduce the amount of food eaten from normal. The Church defines this reduction in intake of food as one meal a day, and two smaller meals which if added together would not exceed the main meal in quantity.
Such fasting is obligatory on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. The fast is broken by consuming drinks which could be considered food.
People excused from fast or abstinence
Besides those outside the age limits, those of unsound mind, the sick, the frail, pregnant or nursing women according to need for meat or nourishment, manual laborers according to need, guests at a meal who cannot excuse themselves without giving great offense or causing enmity and other situations of moral or physical impossibility to observe the penitential discipline.
Aside from these minimum penitential requirements, Catholics are encouraged to impose some personal penance on themselves at other times. It could be modeled after abstinence and fasting. For example, a person could multiply the number of days they abstain. Some people give up meat entirely for religious motives (as opposed to those who give it up for health or other motives).
Some religious orders, as a penance, never eat meat.
The early Church had a practice of a Wednesday and Saturday fast. This fast could be the same as the Church’s law (one main meal and two smaller ones) or stricter, even bread and water. Such freely chosen fasting could also consist in giving up something one enjoys such as chocolates, candy, soft drinks, smoking, the cocktail before supper, and so on. This is left to the discretion of the individual.
The earlier Julian calendar, as well as the modern Gregorian calendar, have January 1 as the first day of the year.
At present, most countries use the Gregorian calendar as their de facto calendar and observe January 1 as the New Year’s Day which is probably the most celebrated public holiday in the world. As the new year starts at the stroke of midnight in each time zone, people invariably greet the New Year’s Day it with fireworks. Globally, New Years’ Day traditions include making new resolutions and meeting the members of one’s family and friends.
In pre-Christian Rome, the Julian calendar dedicates the first day of the year to Janus, the god of beginnings and transitions. The Romans venerated Janus as the god of gates, doors, doorways, passages and beginnings, and named the first month of the year in his honour. This implies that the New Year’s Day celebrations follow pagan traditions.
Since 45 BC, the Roman Empire used the Julian calendar and had January 1 as the first day of the year. The Gregorian calendar created in 1582 also called the Western calendar and the Christian calendar was a refined version of the Julian calendar and it too had January 1 as the first day of the year.
In the Gregorian calendar of Christendom, the New Year’s Day liturgically marked the Feast of the Naming and Circumcision of Jesus. The Anglican Church and the Lutheran Church still observe the day as such.
The circumcision of Jesus is an event from the life of Jesus. Verse 2:21 in the Gospel of Luke states:
When eight days were completed for his circumcision, he was named Jesus, the name given him by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.
The Jewish law holds that all males have to undergo circumcision eight days after birth during a Brit milah ceremony, at which they are also given their name. So, according to Jewish tradition, Jesus born on December 25 underwent circumcision on the eighth day of his life on January 1 and named Jesus, the name given him by the angel before Mary conceived him. Hence, liturgically January 1, the New Year’s Day, marked the Feast of the Circumcision of Jesus in the Gregorian calendar of Christendom.
The Eastern Orthodox Church celebrates the event on January 1 as the Feast of the Circumcision. Likewise, the Anglican and Lutheran churches celebrate the Feast of the Circumcision of Jesus on January 1.
Roman Catholics for long celebrated the Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus on January 1. Now, the Roman Catholic Church considers New Year’s Day as a Holy Day of Obligation and celebrates the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God, on this day.
“Forget what you have heard about Jesus if it doesn’t begin and end with love.” – Davis Phelps
David Norris Phelps, an American Christian music vocalist, songwriter and vocal arranger is best known for singing tenor in the Gaither Vocal Band (GVB), an American southern gospel vocal group, named after its founder and leader Bill Gaither.
The GVB emerged in the early 1980s recording contemporary Christian music. Later it became known for its southern gospel. Bill Gaither leads the group with passion and his genuine desire to bring meaning to the music which the group sings.
The lineup of the GVB changes often. Besides Bill Gaither, singers with the longest tenure in the band include Michael English (1985–94, 2009–13), Mark Lowry (1988–2001, 2009–13), Guy Penrod (1995–2008), David Phelps (1997-2004, 2009-present) and Wes Hampton (2005-present).
As of February 2014, the lineup consists of Bill Gaither, David Phelps, Wes Hampton, Adam Crabb, and Todd Suttles.
All the members of GVB are all talented artists and are authentic men of faith. Known worldwide for their vocal power, innovative harmonies, they are instruments of God to carry the message of hope, grace and redemption.
Today, with over 30 years of history, the GVB, has an award-winning legacy of excellence for the harmony of those male voices: vocals, baritone, bass, and tenor.
David Phelps started his professional career at GVB in 1996. He remained at GVB as a tenor for eight years from 1996 to 2004. In 2004, he left the group to realize the biggest dream of his life: to develop his solo career. In early 2009, after recording seven albums, he returned to the GVB.
In 2002, Gaither Homecoming Video featured David Phelps in God Bless America, which featured his solo “End of the Beginning“.
A top reviewer declared: “You can’t go wrong with a Phelps piece!!”
End Of The Beginning
Words & music by David Phelps
I was taking a trip on a plane the other day, just wishin’ that I could get out.
When the man next to me saw the book in my hand and asked me what it was about.
So I settled back in my seat. “A best-seller,” I said, “a hist’ry and a myst’ry in one.”
Then I opened up the book and began to read from Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John…
He was born of a virgin one holy night in the little town of Bethlehem.
Angels gathered ’round Him underneath the star singing praises to the great I AM.
He walked on the water, healed The lame, and made the blind to see again.
And for the first time here on earth we learned that God could be a friend.
And though He never, ever did a single thing wrong, the angry crowd chose Him.
And then He walked down the road and died on the cross and that was the end…of the beginning.”
“That’s not a new book, that’s a Bible,” he said, “And I’ve heard it all before.
I’ve tried religion, it’s shame and guilt, and I don’t need it anymore.
It’s superstation, made-up tales, just to help the weak to survive.”
“Let me read it again,” I said, “But listen closely. This is gonna change your life.”
“He was born of a virgin one holy night in the little town of Bethlehem.
Angels gathered ’round Him underneath the star singing praises to the great I AM.
He walked on the water, healed the lame, and made the blind to see again.
And for the first time here on earth we learned that God could be a friend.
And though He never, ever did a single thing wrong, the angry crowd chose Him. And then He walked down the road and died on the cross and that was the end…of the beginning.”
“The end of the beginning?” he said with a smile. “What more
could there be? He’s dead. You said they hung Him, put nails in
His hands and a crown of thorns on His head.” I said, “I’ll read it
again, but this time there’s more.
And I believe that this is true: His death wasn’t the end but the beginning of life that’s completed in you.
Don’t you see, He did all this for you…”
“He was born of a virgin one holy night in the little town of Bethlehem. All the angels singing praises to the great I AM.
He walked on the water, healed the lame, and made the blind to see.
And for the first time here on earth, did you know that God could be a friend?
And though He never, ever did a single thing wrong, He was the one the crowd chose.
And then He walked and He died, but three days later, three days later, three days later…
He rose! Three days later He rose!
You see, He came, He lived, and He died, but that was the end of the beginning.
My article “Actions speak louder than words!” has evoked a good response from my readers. One person after reading the article has asked: “So what is your action?”
This is my reply:
Look at this (sinful) woman. She has come to Jesus and found in him her Saviour. She wetted his feet with her tears and then wiped them with her hair. Look at verse Luke 7:50, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”
It is our faith that saves us. We either look at this woman and say, “Thank you Lord, I am not like her,” then the question becomes, “Has your faith saved you?”
But if our response is “Lord, have mercy on me,” then the good news is mercy is freely given.
Jesus is here and He will always be wherever we are or who or whatever we choose to be. This woman knew Jesus was there to forgive her and she loved Him for that. In the same way, I know Jesus is forever here to forgive me, no matter who I am or what I have done. I know he will forgive me.
Most of us do not get over our afflictions and then go to Jesus, rather we approach Him and He removes them, and He also gives us something else to live for.
My action in life has always been “do more than what I am paid for,” like the woman wiping the feet of Jesus with her tears, wiping it with her hair, and anointing it with perfumed ointment.
There is nothing in this world we could ever do to make up for the sacrifice Jesus made for us. Yet, most of us are not called to do anything. So, most of us forget that it is easy after being Christians for a while to become a Pharisee and point a “holier than thou” finger at others.
In the gospel of Luke, the story of the pardoning of a sinful woman (Luke 7:36-50) illustrates the axiom that “actions speak louder than words.”
A Pharisee named Simon invited Jesus to dine with him. On entering the house of the Pharisee, Jesus reclined at the table, the normal posture of guests at a banquet.
On learning that Jesus had come to the house of the Pharisee, a woman of that town who lived a sinful life, came there with an alabaster jar of perfumed ointment.
Weeping, she fell down at the feet of Jesus and wet them with her tears. Then, she wiped his feet with her hair, kissed them and anointed them with the perfumed ointment.
When the Pharisee saw this, he said to himself, “If this man was a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what sort of woman she is – that she is a sinner.”
Jesus understood his thoughts and said, “Simon, I have something to say to you.”
“Tell me, teacher,” Simon said.
“Two people owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other owed fifty.”
At that time, one denarius was the normal daily wage of a laborer.
“Neither of them had the money to repay his loan, so the moneylender forgave the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?”
Simon replied, “I suppose the one whose larger debt was forgiven.”
Jesus said, “You have judged rightly.”
Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? When I entered your house, you did not give me water to wash my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. As my host, you did not greet me with a kiss, but this woman, from the time she entered this house, has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not place oil on my head, but she anointed my feet with perfumed ointment.”
According to the Christian canonical gospels, Jesus Christ fasted for 40 days in the desert, where he encountered the temptations by Satan. So, the solemn religious observance of Lent originated as a mirroring this event. Hence, Christians fast 40 days as preparation for the Easter Sunday, the day of the resurrection of Christ. In Latin, Lent is referred to by the term Quadragesima (meaning “fortieth”), in reference to the fortieth day before Easter.
Ash Wednesday is a day of fasting. In Western Christianity, it marks the start of the 40-day period of fasting, the first day of the season of Lent.
Ash Wednesday derives its name from the practice of blessing the ashes made from palm branches that were blessed on Palm Sunday of the previous year, and placing them ceremonially on the heads of the participants. The Ash is either sprinkled over their heads or more often a visible cross is marked on their foreheads to the accompaniment of the words “Repent, and believe in the Gospel” or “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return” based on Genesis 3:19
By the sweat of your brow you shall eat bread, Until you return to the ground, from which you were taken; For you are dust, and to dust you shall return.
In Western Christianity, during Lent, every Sunday is regarded as a feast day to commemorate the resurrection of Jesus Christ on a Sunday, and so fasting is considered inappropriate on that day. And so, Christians fast from Monday to Saturday (6 days) for 6 weeks and from Wednesday to Saturday (4 days) in the preceding week, thus making up the number of 40 days.
Many Western Christians, including Catholics, Lutherans, Methodists, Anglicans, and Presbyterians observe Ash Wednesday. However, not all Catholics observe Ash Wednesday. Eastern Catholic Churches, do not count Holy Week as part of Lent, and they begin the penitential season on Monday before Ash Wednesday called the Clean Monday. Catholics following the Ambrosian Rite begin it on the First Sunday in Lent.
Throughout the Latin Church, the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church and in the Maronite Catholic Church, the Ashes are blessed and ceremonially distributed at the start of Lent. In the Catholic Ambrosian Rite, this is done at the end of Sunday Mass or on the following day.
Here are readings in the Churches for Ash Wednesday. It is the continuation of the sermon on the mount. Jesus warns against doing good in order to be seen and gives three examples. In each, the conduct of the hypocrites is contrasted with that demanded of the disciples.
Teaching about Alms-giving
[But] take care not to perform righteous deeds in order that people may see them; otherwise, you will have no recompense from your heavenly Father.
When you give alms, do not blow a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets to win the praise of others. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward.
But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right is doing, so that your almsgiving may be secret. And your Father who sees in secret will repay you.
– (Mathew 6: 1-4)
Teaching about Prayer
When you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, who love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on street corners so that others may see them. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward.
But when you pray, go to your inner room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will repay you.
In praying, do not babble like the pagans, who think that they will be heard because of their many words.
Do not be like them. Your Father knows what you need before you ask him.
“This is how you are to pray:
Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread;
and forgive us our debts,
as we forgive our debtors;
and do not subject us to the final test,
but deliver us from the evil one.
If you forgive others their transgressions, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your transgressions.
– Matthew 6:5–15
Teaching about Fasting
When you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites. They neglect their appearance, so that they may appear to others to be fasting. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward.
But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you may not appear to be fasting, except to your Father who is hidden. And your Father who sees what is hidden will repay you.
Today, I came across the Play Buzz website. It said: “Take this short quiz to find out which of Christ’s Disciples best matches your personality!”
Well, I couldn’t resist the challenge and I took the quiz.
Oh! According to the result I am “James”. Read this:
Like James, you are a systematic and incisive thinker. You voraciously ingest information and apply sharp logical analysis to produce sound insights and strategies. You are focused and determined, and you let little stand in the way of achieving your goals. You never back down from an argument once you are sure you have thought things through.
However, like James, your unbending logic may be a bit too biting. Like a true “Son of Thunder” your ambition and temper may be perceived by others as callous and stinging. Your rough edge may alienate your audience, even if your insights are correct. And your persistent focus on accuracy and improvement may make you a target of those wishing to preserve the status quo.
Your role as a disciple of Christ is that of a reliable expert and truth-teller. You don’t mince words, and you bring clarity and consistency to the more ambiguous matters of religion and spirituality. Other people look to you for sound teaching as you fight for truth until the end.
So, why not take the quiz like I did and find out which disciple of Jesus resembled you!
People were bringing children to Jesus that he might touch them, but the disciples rebuked them.
When Jesus saw this he became indignant and said to them, “Let the children come to me; do not prevent them, for the Kingdom of God belongs to such as these.
Amen, I say to you, whoever does not accept the Kingdom of God like a child will not enter it.”
Then he embraced the children and blessed them, placing his hands on them.
In the Democratic Republic of the Congo self-styled pastors hoodwink ignorant rural folk using the name of Jesus and the Holy Spirit. These criminals who call themselves “pastors” resort to so-called “exorcism” of infants and children to fatten themselves by levying a high fee equal to US$50 or more to drive out the evil spirits in the innocent children. The government officials in Congo do not bother to intervene and arrest these extortionists because they receive their kickbacks under the table.
In India too, there are in every nook and corner, many crooked Christian pastors such as these, who inveigle ignorant people to their churches and fleece them in the name of Jesus and the Holy Spirit.
These felons should be stripped bare and molten lead should be poured into their blasphemous mouths for Exodus 20:7 says:
“You shall not invoke the name of the LORD, your God, in vain. For the LORD will not leave unpunished anyone who invokes his name in vain.“
Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest.
Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves.
For my yoke is easy, and my burden light. ( Matthew 11:28-30)
When Jesus says “who labor and are burdened” he means burdened by the law as expounded by the scribes and Pharisees. On another occasion Matthew says:
They tie up heavy burdens [hard to carry] and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they will not lift a finger to move them. (Matthew 23:4)
Jesus invites the burdened to take the yoke of obedience to his word, under which they will find rest in place of the yoke of the law, complicated by scribal interpretation.
Thus says the LORD: Stand by the earliest roads, ask the pathways of old, “Which is the way to good?” and walk it; thus you will find rest for yourselves. But they said, “We will not walk it.” (Jeremiah 6:16)
These verses of Matthew are peculiar and are similar to ben Sirach’s invitation to learn wisdom and submit to her yoke:
Come aside to me, you untutored, and take up lodging in the house of instruction; (Sirach 51:23)
Take her yoke upon your neck; that your mind may receive her teaching. For she is close to those who seek her, and the one who is in earnest finds her. (Sirach 51:26)
The Wisdom of Ben Sirach
“Sirach” or the “The Wisdom of Sirach” from which the verses, quoted above, attributed to Jesus ben Sira has been drawn is the last of the seven “Wisdom Books” in the Old Testament. The other six are Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, and Wisdom.
The Wisdom of Sirach is a collection of ethical teachings, a work from the early 2nd century BC. It is the work of a single author – Jesus ben Sirach of Jerusalem. It closely resembles Proverbs, which is an anthology of maxims drawn from various sources. The work derives its title from the author’s words:
Wise instruction, appropriate proverbs, I have written in this book— I, Yeshua [Jesus] Ben Eleazar Ben Sira — as they poured forth from my heart’s understanding. (Sirach 50:27)
The title “Sirach” comes from the Greek form of the author’s name.
The author, Jesus ben Sirach of Jerusalem was thoroughly imbued with love for the wisdom tradition, and also for the law, the priesthood, the Temple, and divine worship. As a wise and experienced observer of life he addressed himself to his contemporaries with the motive of helping them maintain religious faith and integrity through study of the books sacred to the Jewish tradition.
The Wisdom of Sirach contains numerous well-crafted maxims, grouped by affinity, and dealing with a variety of subjects such as the individual, the family, the community, the state, and communion with God. It treats of friendship, education, poverty and wealth, laws, religious worship, and many other issues that reflect the religious and social customs of the period.
Wisdom, in Ben Sira’s view, is synonymous with the reverence of God, and sometimes is identified in his mind with adherence to the Mosaic law.
The contents of “The Wisdom of Ben Sirach” are of a discursive nature, not easily divided into separate parts. Chapters 1–43 deal largely with moral instruction; 44:1–50:24 contain a eulogy of the heroes of Israel. There are two appendixes in which the author expresses his gratitude to God (51:1–12), and invites the unschooled to acquire true wisdom (51:13–30).
Jesus ben Sirach may have authored the work in Alexandria, Egypt, between 180 – 175 BC, where he is thought to have established a school. It was originally written in Hebrew. The text was translated into Greek by the author’s grandson after 117 BC, who also added a prologue, which contains valuable information about the book, its author, and himself as the translator.
“The Wisdom of Sirach” seems to be the earliest title of the book it is also known by various names:
“Book of the All-Virtuous Wisdom of Jesus benSira“,
“Wisdom of Sirach“,
“The Book Ecclesiasticus“,
“Proverbs of benSirach” (משלי בן סירא, Mišley ben Siraʼ),
“Wisdom of ben Sirach” (חכמת בן סירא,Ḥokhmat ben Siraʼ), or simply “Sirach.”
Though there are numerous citations of Sirach in the Talmud and works of rabbinic literature (as “ספר בן סירא”, e.g., Hagigah 13a) the book was not accepted into the scriptural canon of Judaism after the first century A.D., nor, therefore, accepted by Protestants.
The Wisdom of Ben Sirach has been acknowledged by the Catholic Church as inspired and canonical. The Foreword, though not properly part of the book, is always included with it because of its antiquity and importance. Sirach is also accepted as part of the Christian biblical canon by Eastern Orthodox, and most Oriental Orthodox churches.
The Greek Church Fathers also called it the “All-Virtuous Wisdom.” The Latin Church Fathers, beginning with Saint Cyprian, bishop of Carthage (died September 14, 258) termed it “Ecclesiasticus.” The designation “Liber Ecclesiasticus,” meaning “Church Book,” appended to some Greek and Latin manuscripts, is perhaps due to the extensive use the church made of this book in presenting moral teaching to catechumens and to the faithful.
Until the close of the nineteenth century “The Wisdom of Ben Sirach” was known to Christians in translations, of which the Greek rendering was the most important. From it the Latin version was made. Between 1896 and 1900, again in 1931, and several times since 1956, incomplete manuscripts were discovered, so that more than two thirds of the book in Hebrew is available. These Hebrew texts agree substantially with the Greek. One such text, from Masada, is pre-Christian in date. So, the work of ben Sirach is presently known through various versions, which scholars still struggle to disentangle.
Here is a sample of Jesus Ben Sira’s wisdom.
Ben Sira’s Pursuit of Wisdom – Sirach 51:13-30
13 When I was young and innocent, I sought wisdom.
14 She came to me in her beauty, and until the end I will cultivate her.
15 As the blossoms yielded to ripening grapes, the heart’s joy, My feet kept to the level path because from earliest youth I was familiar with her.
16 In the short time I paid heed, I met with great instruction.
17 Since in this way I have profited, I will give my Teacher grateful praise.
18 I resolved to tread her paths; I have been jealous for the good and will not turn back.
19 I burned with desire for her, never relenting. I became preoccupied with her, never weary of extolling her. I spread out my hands to the heavens and I came to know her secrets.
20 For her I purified my hands; in cleanness I attained to her. At first acquaintance with her, I gained understanding such that I will never forsake her.
21 My whole being was stirred to seek her; therefore I have made her my prize possession.
22 The LORD has rewarded me with lips, with a tongue for praising him.
23 Come aside to me, you untutored, and take up lodging in the house of instruction;
24 How long will you deprive yourself of wisdom’s food, how long endure such bitter thirst?
25 I open my mouth and speak of her: gain wisdom for yourselves at no cost.
26 Take her yoke upon your neck; that your mind may receive her teaching. For she is close to those who seek her, and the one who is in earnest finds her.
27 See for yourselves! I have labored only a little, but have found much.
28 Acquire but a little instruction, and you will win silver and gold through her.
29 May your soul rejoice in God’s mercy; do not be ashamed to give him praise.
30 Work at your tasks in due season, and in his own time God will give you your reward.