Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time
First Reading: Sirach 15:15-20
We humans love to escape responsibility. When Mom runs to the room where sounds of a fight are coming from, she finds brothers pointing fingers at each other. When confronted with our trespasses, it is easy to blame someone else. Even in the Garden of Eden, Adam blames Eve and Eve blames the serpent. But one roundabout way of denying responsibility is to claim that we did not have freedom in the first place, that our hand was forced, that we couldn’t help but do what we did. This moral argument comes in many forms: that a person’s upbringing was so bad that he wasn’t really free, that all of human life is physical material and so our moral outcomes are dictated by our DNA and our environment, not by our choices.
“God made me do it”
In this Sunday’s first reading, a novel version of this argument is being confronted: the idea that God forced me into a situation where evil was my only choice, that my sin is God’s fault. In Sirach 15:11, just before our reading’s selection, the false idea is quoted as “It was God’s doing that I fell away,” and in v. 12, “He himself has led me astray” (NABRE). Sirach responds that God does not do what he hates and that he doesn’t need the wicked. While the idea that God would lead one into sin might seem silly at first, think about friends who have lost their faith in a time of trial and suffering. Sometimes the harshness of life can tempt people to reject God, as if he was the cause of all their ills. This rejection does not follow strict logic, but it expresses deep pain in the human heart. We must reach out in loving care to those who grieve so deeply, but ultimately not let our grief overwhelm our faith.
Lead us not into Temptation
When Jesus teaches us how to pray, he too responds to the false accusation of God. He teaches us to say, “Lead us not into temptation…” If we sit down to think about it, we can come to see that God doesn’t ever lead us into temptation, but we need the reaffirmation of this reality in our speaking to God. If God did lead us into temptation, some of us would be pre-destined to Hell. But the Church has explicitly condemned the idea that anyone is predestined to Hell (Catechism, 1037). God does not desire our destruction, but our life. He does not force us to wicked behavior, but helps us to act righteously.
A Matter of Life and Death
Sirach paints the constant choice before us in the starkest of colors: life and death, good and evil, fire and water. The choice is ours. God does not force our hand. Keeping the commandments leads to God’s blessings and life, but breaking the commandments leads to curse and death. This depiction of the “two ways” is repeated in many fashions in the Bible: the blessings and curses of Deuteronomy, the two paths of Psalm 1, the narrow vs. broad way in the Gospels. While not every moment in our lives is as dramatic as fire and water, every decision we make draws us closer to God or pushes us away from him.
God’s Wisdom Sees through Our Designs
In the context of refuting the idea that God tempts people, Sirach explains to us the immensity of God’s wisdom. God sees all, knows all, understands all. He “knows our works” as it says in Revelation. He also knows our motivations. When we sin, we reject our moral responsibility and can pretend to ourselves that we weren’t really responsible for our actions. But God knows the game we’re trying to play. He knows what’s really going on in our hearts. He never commands us to do something morally wrong. He never asks us to act unjustly. Instead, St. Paul reassures us that even in the most terribly tempting situation, he provides us with a way of escape (see 1 Cor 10:13).
No License to Sin
Lastly, Sirach tells us that God never gives out a “license to sin.” This idea reminds me of a mistaken view of the sacrament of Confession, where a guy goes to Confession before the weekend to confess all the sins that he is about to commit, before he’s committed them. God does not hand out “hall passes” for sin. He knows that sin destroys us, that it is contrary to the way we are built, that we do ourselves no favors by engaging in it. Confession, in fact, requires a purpose of amendment, that is, a firm resolution not to sin. A priest can’t grant absolution ahead of time. It only works for sins that have already been committed, and that the sinner is now pledging not to do again.
Sirach points out to us our own tendency to run from responsibility, to hide our sinfulness from ourselves, or to blame others, even God. What he’s asking us to do is own up to our responsibility, to realize that ultimately we have no one to blame but ourselves. God does not tempt us to sin, he prompts us to live courageous and righteous lives. He doesn’t want us to escape from responsibility, but to carry out our responsibilities with joy.
image: Andreas F. Borchert/Wikimedia Commons
Editor’s Note: Unpacking the Old Testament is a series by CatholicBibleStudent.com‘s Dr. Mark Giszczak. Dr. Giszczak is here to help us all come to a richer understanding of what can otherwise be a very daunting collection of books, the Old Testament. Look for his column every Friday from Catholic Exchange.