01Mar Tuesday of the Eighth Week

Sir 35:1ff. This Jerusalem teacher recommends temple sacrifices; he also calls for generosity to the poor, and freedom from extortion.

Mark 10:28ff. We will receive a hundred times over and above for anything we have given up for Jesus’ sake.

Remembering the Poor

When Sirach took part in the temple liturgy, joy and delight brightened his face, and his exuberance sings in every line while extolling “the greatest among his associates, the glory of his people,” the much-admired high priest Simon (Sir 50). On the other hand, the prophets frequently excoriated the temple priesthood for their laxity and self-serving ambition. The words of Hosea still flash with fiery indignation: “This is my grievance with you, High Priest…. My people perish for want of knowledge. Since you have rejected knowledge, I will reject you as my priest… (Hos 4:4ff).

The prophets passionately pleaded for social justice and kindly tolerance towards the poor. The words of Micah still ring across the years: “You have been told what is good, and what the Lord requires of you: Only to do the right and to love goodness, and to walk humbly with your God” (Mic 6:8). Isaiah reduced the entire law to hearing the orphan’s plea and defending the widow (Isa 1:16). Orphans and widows were the accepted symbols of defenseless people. In a less fiery style, and with more gentleness and poise, Sirach expresses the same concern for the poor, telling us that works of charity are equivalent to offerings of fine flour on the altar. For him also, to refrain from evil and to avoid injustice is the best kind of sacrifice. God cannot tolerate injustice for long.

When Jesus appeared, he identified with the poor, gravitated towards them and spoke up in their defense. The village of Bethany was prominent because this city marked the spot where lepers came closest to Jerusalem, to overlook the holy city from the Mount of Olives. To reach out and touch the leper in one sense it renders us unclean, not fit to share in temple ritual. Yet in another way it renders us holy with the Jesus who befriended lepers and declared that “The last shall be first.”

But Sirach too bids us never forget the poor, even in the midst of elegant ritual with its pomp and circumstance. If we will not listen to the gentle voice of this wise teacher, the prophets will fling their threats at our conscience. At moments of prayer, when we are closest to God, we must not forget the poor, for all of us in our deepest need, turn out to be God’s poor ones.

First Reading: Sirach 35:1-12

The one who keeps the law makes many offerings; one who heeds the commandments makes an offering of well-being.

The one who returns a kindness offers choice flour, and one who gives alms sacrifices a thank offering.

To keep from wickedness is pleasing to the Lord, and to forsake unrighteousness is an atonement.

Do not appear before the Lord empty-handed, for all that you offer is in fulfillment of the commandment.

The offering of the righteous enriches the altar, and its pleasing odour rises before the Most High.

The sacrifice of the righteous is acceptable, and it will never be forgotten.

Be generous when you worship the Lord, and do not stint the first fruits of your hands.

With every gift show a cheerful face, and dedicate your tithe with gladness.

Give to the Most High as he has given to you, and as generously as you can afford.

Gospel: Mark 10:28-31

Peter began to say to him, “Look, we have left everything and followed you.” Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age – houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields with persecutions – and in the age to come eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.”

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