For Christians reasonably familiar with the Gospels, normally upon hearing or reading “Consider the…”, the mind probably fills in the blank with “birds of the air” or “lilies of the field” before the sentence is finished. Christ speaks to the fact that we should not worry ourselves with material things, but continue on our path, doing the work that we need to do. In the centuries before Him, this lovely and comforting teaching about what we can learn from the natural world was prefigured by a Hebrew sage, whose work many unfortunately do not know.
Last evening I opened my Bible at random, which I do from time to time when seeking some passages of Scripture for reflection. It fell open to Sirach (also known as Ecclesiasticus) 11: 10, which reads
My son, why increase your cares, since he who is avid for wealth will not be blameless? Even if you run after it, you will never overtake it; however you seek it, you will not find it.
Now let’s face it: when you are a young, single professional, working in a city, wealth – or at the very least cost – is very often an highly important consideration in what you do. So this is a rather sobering yet tender reminder that it is the work that is important. Our path is what must be followed, and not the distraction of things which are merely material tools.
After reading a bit of the subsequent verses, which provide wonderfully sound advice, I flipped back to the beginning of the chapter. There, in v. 3, appears the following:
Least is the bee among winged things, but she reaps the choicest of all harvests.
First of all, it is to my mind always rather fun when one can say “wing’-ed” rather than “winged”, so it would be even more fun if I happened to have this for an Old Testament reading someday when serving as a lector. Perhaps it would be nice to read in reflecting on the feast of St. Ambrose, who is often portrayed with a beehive and bees. And of course there is something very Shakespearean or Tolkien-esque about “wing’-ed”.
More importantly however, just as the birds of the air are fed, and the lilies of the field are clothed, so too does the bee enjoy a wonderful harvest which we ourselves cannot really imagine. If of course, the bee in question is a honey bee, then naturally we can enjoy the fruit of her labours in the form of honey. However, the actual experience of getting a sweet treat from a flower in flight, as the bee does, is something that none of us will have.
Sadly, Sirach is one of the books that Martin Luther rejected, primarily over what he considered to be the canon of Hebrew Scripture. Rather a silly thing to do, since Christ himself quotes from Sirach several times in the Gospels. As a result, many Christian people are not aware of the wonderful insights and poetry contained in this book of the Bible. So, for the education and edification of those who may enjoy it, here follows the entire text of Chapter 11 of the Book of Sirach. This translation is from the New American Bible, the entire text of which is on the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ website.
- The poor man’s wisdom lifts his head high and sets him among princes.
- Praise not a man for his looks; despise not a man for his appearance.
- Least is the bee among winged things, but she reaps the choicest of all harvests.
- Mock not the worn cloak and jibe at no man’s bitter day: For strange are the works of the LORD, hidden from men his deeds.
- 1 The oppressed often rise to a throne, and some that none would consider wear a crown.
- The exalted often fall into utter disgrace; the honored are given into enemy hands.
- 2 Before investigating, find no fault; examine first, then criticize.
- Before hearing, answer not, and interrupt no one in the middle of his speech.
- Dispute not about what is not your concern; in the strife of the arrogant take no part.
- My son, why increase your cares, since he who is avid for wealth will not be blameless? Even if you run after it, you will never overtake it; however you seek it, you will not find it.
- One may toil and struggle and drive, and fall short all the more.
- Another goes his way a weakling and a failure, with little strength and great misery– Yet the eyes of the LORD look favorably upon him; he raises him free of the vile dust,
- Lifts up his head and exalts him to the amazement of the many.
- 3 Good and evil, life and death, poverty and riches, are from the LORD.
- 4 Wisdom and understanding and knowledge of affairs, love and virtuous paths are from the LORD.
- Error and darkness were formed with sinners from their birth, and evil grows old with evildoers.
- The LORD’S gift remains with the just; his favor brings continued success.
- A man may become rich through a miser’s life, and this is his allotted reward:
- 5 When he says: “I have found rest, now I will feast on my possessions,” He does not know how long it will be till he dies and leaves them to others.
- My son, hold fast to your duty, busy yourself with it, grow old while doing your task.
- Admire not how sinners live, but trust in the LORD and wait for his light; For it is easy with the LORD suddenly, in an instant, to make a poor man rich.
- God’s blessing is the lot of the just man, and in due time his hopes bear fruit.
- Say not: “What do I need? What further pleasure can be mine?”
- Say not: “I am independent. What harm can come to me now?”
- The day of prosperity makes one forget adversity; the day of adversity makes one forget prosperity.
- 6 For it is easy with the LORD on the day of death to repay man according to his deeds.
- A moment’s affliction brings forgetfulness of past delights; when a man dies, his life is revealed.
- Call no man happy before his death, for by how he ends, a man is known.
- Bring not every man into your house, for many are the snares of the crafty one;
- Though he seem like a bird confined in a cage, yet like a spy he will pick out the weak spots.
- The talebearer turns good into evil; with a spark he sets many coals afire.
- The evil man lies in wait for blood, and plots against your choicest possessions.
- Avoid a wicked man, for he breeds only evil, lest you incur a lasting stain.
- Lodge a stranger with you, and he will subvert your course, and make a stranger of you to your own household.