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.
Summon before me my people
who made covenant with me by sacrifice.
The heavens proclaim his justice,
for he, God, is the judge. (R./)
'Listen, my people, I will speak;
Israel, I will testify against you, for I am God your God.
I find no fault with your sacrifices,
your offerings are always before me. (R./)
'Pay your sacrifice of thanksgiving to God
and render him your votive offerings.
A sacrifice of thanksgiving honours me
and I will show God's salvation to the upright.' (R./)
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."
When Sirach joined in the temple liturgy, he was filled with joy. His exuberance pours out while praising "the glory of his people, Simon the high priest" (Sir 50). What a contrast to the prophets who often excoriated the temple priesthood for their laxity and self-serving ambition. The words of Hosea capture this: "With you is my grievances, O High Priest. My people perish for want of knowledge. Since you have rejected knowledge, I will reject you as my priest." (Hos 4:4).
The prophets called out passionately for social justice and kindness towards the poor. Isaiah reduced the entire law to hearing the orphan’s plea and defending the widow (Isa 1:16). In a less fiery mode Sirach shares this concern for the poor, stating that works of charity are equivalent to offerings of fine flour on the altar. He agrees that to refrain from evil and to avoid injustice is the best kind of sacrifice. To worship God properly, we must be concerned for social justice.
Sirach 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.
Peter asked the candid question, "What about us? We have left everything and followed you." He and his colleagues had given up much to be followers of Jesus. They may have wondered if it was really worth it all. We too have responded to God’s call, maybe not in such a radical way as the apostles who left their livelihood and family for a very uncertain future. Perhaps on our off-days we might be tempted to ask like Peter; "Is it worthwhile to stay in the church, trying to live by the values of the gospel day in and day out." The answer is "Yes, in the long run it is worth the effort."
Jesus promises that when we give of ourselves for his sake, we will receive much more than we give up. In particular, we will gain a new experience of family, far beyond the confines of our blood family. We will find ourselves co-travellers with others who are trying to take the same path as ourselves; we will experience the richness of the church, as the communion of saints. That community embraces not only those of us still on our pilgrim way, but all who have passed beyond this life, including the saints, that "great cloud of witnesses."