Thursday of the Seventh Week in Ordinary Time
(Sirach 5:1-8; Mark 9:41-50)
The class was discussing the morality of masturbation. The instructor pointed out the Church’s teaching that the presence of objective evil does not necessarily imply culpability, especially in cases regarding sexuality of adolescents. Then a student, who is also a parent, rose to say, “Remember the Scripture, ‘Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.’” The man was only giving an echo to what the book of Sirach teaches us today.
The name Sirach comes from the book’s author, Eleazar ben Sira, who lived in Jerusalem during the third and second centuries before Christ. Ben Sira wrote in Hebrew although only Greek translations of his work remain. It is not accepted as canonically inspired by Jews and Protestants. Yet it was considered as Sacred Scripture by many rabbis through the centuries as well as the Catholic Church since her foundation. Who would disagree with the present lesson that humans only fool themselves when they think they might escape the consequences of their sins?
Questions of subjective culpability for sin are difficult to judge. Human freedom is always under constraint so that it is virtually impossible for us to say with complete certitude that we, much less others, are guilty of mortal sin. This fact, however, should not give us excuse not to repent of and confess our involvement in evil acts as sins. Jesus exaggerates in the gospel today when he tells us to cut off our hands and pluck out our eyes if we find them causing us to sin. Yet obviously he, like ben Sira, wants to warn us about wrong-doing. We must take care to distance ourselves from participating in evil and to teach our young people to do likewise.