The Exact Question to Ponder

Daily ReadingsTuesday of the Seventh Week in Ordinary Time
Sir 2:1-11 / Mk 9:30-37

Wait on God with patience, cling to him, forsake him not; thus you will be wise in all your ways. [Sir 2:3]

Today’s echo is an interesting verse, apparently; the version in the lectionary varies pretty widely from the version in many of the accepted translations for American Catholics:

Wait on God with patience: join thyself to God, and endure, that thy life may be increased in the latter end. [Douay-Rheims]

Cling to him and do not leave him, so that you may be honoured at the end of your days. [The Jersualem Bible]

Cling to him, forsake him not; thus will your future be great. [New American Bible]

Cling to him, do not leave him, that you may prosper in your last days. [New American Bible Revised Edition]

As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, for the Daily Readings I usually look at the USCCB web site (which states that the lectionary uses the NAB, although the Bible translation on its site is the NABRE). Most of the time, the various approved translations are fairly close, but today appears to be one of the exceptions.

That said, the lectionary version is the one that seems to be speaking to me the strongest.

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There’s a comment there, I think, about the various ways in which we can receive the Word. Most Americans, indeed most Western Christians these days, tend to default toward reading a specific version for themselves. While personal and private study of Scripture is always laudable, I’ve also noticed a tendency (particularly among evangelicals) to treat the Bible the same way other important documents are treated. This is most evident in the statement, “well, if you can show me in the Bible…”

One reason I’m Catholic is because I don’t accept the Bible that way. First, it’s because I understand that any English version is, by definition, a translation (English didn’t even exist until the 5th Century after Christ) and thus subject to human error. Second, it’s because history clearly shows that the Gospels were written well after the time of Jesus; the very fact that there are four of them instead of one indicates that they’re secondary sources. Third, it’s because I understand that no language, English included, is ever exact. There’s always room for interpretation within any given statement; and the books of the Bible are no exception.

That leads to the question of interpretive authority. While I hold the common belief that Scripture should be read and understood by everyone, I also accept that there are people who are far more learned than I am about such matters. The most learned are those whose body of knowledge can be dated back to the early Church; that group primarily exists today within the Catholic and Orthodox traditions. As such, I look to those teachers as likely the ones who are most right — nobody is completely right — and consider my own ancestry. I’m primarily of German descent, with healthy admixtures of English and Irish; all three of those peoples were Latin-Rite Catholics prior to the Reformation. Thus, it makes sense for me to remain there.

The Catholic view of Scripture also makes the most sense to me. Instead of treating the Bible as an authoritative document the same way we might treat a contract or law, the Church treats the Bible as the most important of several sources of Revelation. While she supports private Scriptural reading, she also makes the point that Catholics should receive the Word aurally and with interpretation as well. We (supposedly) do this every Sunday in Mass.

This is why Catholics often don’t get into arguments about translations and exact wording; I personally find them more than a little bit non-sensical and, since the Bible isn’t the only source of Revelation, the exact wording isn’t critical anyway. What’s most important is the doctrine and beliefs that are being taught.

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Sirach (aka Ecclesiasticus) is a “deuterocanonical book,” meaning that it appeared in the older Septuagint version but not in the newer Masoretic text. Protestants refer to it as being part of the Apocryphal books, exclude it from their Bibles, and generally don’t read it. I’ve more than once felt like they were missing out on a lot of useful advice as a result; in fact, Sirach is my favorite book of the entire Bible because of its practical advice for living a holy life.

That practical advice begins around Chapter 3; today’s echo verse is from Chapter 2, which is part of what could be considered an introduction. That introduction focuses primarily on the thesis that true wisdom and understanding come from trust and obedience to the Lord.

I tend to focus more on the practical, so I’m guilty of sometimes skipping the first two books when reading Sirach on my own. The inclusion of Chapters 1 and 2 in the lectionary is requiring me to take a second look at them, and reminding me that there is a reason we should be carrying out all the everyday practices of the holy life. It’s not because the practices themselves are good; it’s because they’re done from a root of faith, here expressed as trust and obedience.

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This leads back to my current ponderings on the nature of my own faith. Obedience isn’t really a problem for me most of the time, although there are some exceptions. But trust? That’s a big difficulty, because I’ve been betrayed over and over again, including at the hands of those whom I should have been able to trust implicitly.

Part of my warped psychological matrix, in fact, is an innate mistrustfulness. The best way to get me to not believe an instruction is to explicitly state that it’s being given for my own benefit. For me, that’s always told me that carrying it out won’t benefit me at all. Why else would someone be so insistent about it, if not to get me to sit down, shut up and do as I’m told regardless of what it costs me?

What about all the times I’ve cried out to God, asking him when it’s going to be my turn to benefit? The four Biblical versions of this verse suggest that my reward will come in old age or even after death. But the lectionary version promises something a little different. It promises wisdom, which is something that comes with age but doesn’t require one to be at or near the end of one’s life. It simply requires time, which is consistent with all versions of the verse.

In other words, God is saying he’ll benefit his people in his own time. What he’s not saying, though, is that he won’t benefit them at all. In fact, this verse is saying the exact opposite; that it will happen, just not necessarily when I want it to.

The question, then, is whether I believe that it will at all. And that’s the tough part: I don’t.

I just wish I knew how I could start. Perhaps, though, that’s what I should be praying for instead of asking when my turn is. Maybe it’s enough to ask for the strength to believe it’ll happen at all. That may be the wisdom I should seek today. It’s certainly worth a try.

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