Do not find fault before you investigate; examine first, and then criticize. Do not answer before you listen, and do not interrupt when another is speaking.
(From the Daily Office Lectionary – Sirach 11:7-8 (NRSV) – October 24, 2014)
I should have taken a course on the Deutero-Canon when I was in seminary! Really! I’m just astounded at the amount of really good advice there is in this one book, The Wisdom of Jesus, Son of Sirach, the Liber Ecclesiasticus. Of course, there’s a lot of nonsense, too. You could build a good sermon on the “prosperity gospel” from some of the stuff here . . . but mostly there’s just good common sense.
Like these two verses. They remind me of things my parents said, things like “Get the facts” and “Shut up and listen” and “Don’t interrupt.” Good advice that people in our society seem to have forgotten.
Have you listened to any of the joint interviews that journalists sometimes try to conduct with representatives of opposing camps? I listened to one not long ago on NPR regarding the anti-abortion legislation passed in Texas that requires a pregnancy clinic’s physicians to have admitting privileges at a hospital within some specified distance. A representative of the so-called “right to lifers” and another from the so-called “pro-choice” side were both miked . . . and you couldn’t hear what either had to say because they were so busy trying to shout over each other. Neither would shut up and let the other get a word in edgewise.
My late brother was an avid sports fan (he writes in an apparent non-sequitur). He would get so wrapped up watching football and basketball games on television that he would forget where he was and who he was with. I recall one family Thanksgiving gathering when we were watching some game (between who in what sport I have no idea). My brother got so excited at one point he yelled at the top of his lungs, “Run, you son of a bitch! Move that fucking ball!” My mother was not pleased.
I do not get that excited about sports. I get that excited about politics. That’s why I don’t discuss it with friends and parishioners. That’s why I don’t attend election night poll-watching parties. I tend to cut loose with exactly the same sort of excited utterance to which my brother was prone while watching football.
When I heard the report on the Texas legislation, I was driving to a clergy conference — wearing a Roman collar. I was by myself, but it was a nice day and the window was down. The conversation (I use the term very loosely) started and soon the talking-over and the shouting-down began. At some point I became so annoyed with the interviewees that I yelled at them (well, at my car radio, actually), “Shut the fuck up!” I hope no pedestrian or passerby heard me.
But if they had, I now know that I could point to the Book of Sirach and assert very affirmatively that it is a biblical injunction. “Shut up!” even, perhaps, the more aggressive phrasing. It’s right there! Right here, in the 11th Chapter of Ecclesiasticus!
So, folks, want to prove to us that you pay attention to scripture? Want us to really believe that you follow its injunctions when you try to enforce them on the whole of society, on our friends and neighbors who don’t share our faith? Then pay attention to Jesus, Son of Sirach.
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Father Funston is the rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio.