You of Lord saved me from destruction
and rescued me in time of trouble.
For this reason I thank you and praise you,
and I bless the name of the Lord.
While I was still young, before I went on my travels,
I sought wisdom openly in my prayer.
Before the temple I asked for her,
and I will search for her until the end.
From the first blossom to the ripening grape
my heart delighted in her;
my foot walked on the straight path;
from my youth I followed her steps.
I inclined my ear a little and received her,
and I found for myself much instruction.
I made progress in her;
to him who gives wisdom I will give glory.
For I resolved to live according to wisdom,
and I was zealous for the good,
and I shall never be disappointed.
My soul grappled with wisdom,
and in my conduct I was strict;
I spread out my hands to the heavens,
and lamented my ignorance of her.
I directed my soul to her,
and in purity I found her.
The law of the Lord is perfect,
it revives the soul.
The rule of the Lord is to be trusted,
it gives wisdom to the simple. (R./)
The precepts of the Lord are right,
they gladden the heart.
The command of the Lord is clear,
it gives light to the eyes. (R./)
The fear of the Lord is holy,
abiding for ever.
The decrees of the Lord are truth
and all of them just. (R./)
They are more to be desired than gold,
than the purest of gold,
and sweeter are they than honey,
than honey from the comb. (R./)
Again they came to Jerusalem. As he was walking in the temple, the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders came to him and said, "By what authority are you doing these things? Who gave you this authority to do them?" Jesus said to them, "I will ask you one question; answer me, and I will tell you by what authority I do these things. Did the baptism of John come from heaven, or was it of human origin? Answer me." They argued with one another, "If we say, 'From heaven,' he will say, 'Why then did you not believe him?' But shall we say, 'Of human origin'?", they were afraid of the crowd, for all regarded John as truly a prophet. So they answered Jesus, "We do not know." And Jesus said to them, "Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things."
The writer we call Ben-Sirach is calm and confident. His fidelity over the years to the ancestral wisdom of his people has brought its own kind of peace, and a joyful feeling within his heart. In this way wisdom offers us life in its fullness. But we must be honest with ourselves and with others, and let God to set the agenda and the questions. Our God works within reality, and it requires honesty to relate to Him. Unless we recognize reality, he cannot interact with us, for dishonesty sets up a higher barrier to God's presence with us than any other sin. All can be forgiven by God's excelling mercy, but only if we honestly admit what needs to be forgiven.
Jesus makes a similar demand, when religious leaders feel that their monopoly of truth and holiness dispenses them from ordinary justice. To protect their status they are prepared to be devious. In the early church, some people felt so spiritually sanctified that they could ignore normal discipline in their lives, particularly in acts such as eating or physical expressions of love. They neglected the integral unity between body and soul, the physical and the spiritual.
Sirach writes from Old Testament times before the Holy Trinity was revealed. Yet the same approach to faith is found in both Testaments. From our Wisdom readings these past two weeks we have seen this teacher as practical and down to earth, while every so often flashes of profound mysticism shine through his lines. He says, "I will cultivate her until the end," meaning this wisdom that is God's gift. "I became preoccupied with her, never weary of extolling her." If the text asks us to meditate today on honesty before God and before our neighbour, we are not only led along the path of reality, with our feet firmly on this earth, but we are also being guided into a heavenly mystery, a mystery of transcendent wonder, kindness and eternal life. If we are honest, we pursue this journey with Jesus, who will then answer every one of our questions.
Today's gospel comes just after Jesus cleansed the temple, which was a very daring thing to do. There were people in charge of the temple and Jesus certainly had not been authorized by them to do what he did. The question the religious authorities responsible for the temple put to Jesus is very understandable, "What authority have you for acting like this? Who gave you this authority? This happened towards the end of Jesus' ministry. By contrast, at the start of his ministry, according to Mark, the ordinary people of Galilee were struck by the authority with which Jesus spoke and acted. Far from being disturbed by his authority, as the religious leaders were, they were greatly impressed by it. They were all amazed, Mark says, and kept asking one another, "What is this? A new teaching, with authority."
Our Lord spoke and acted with the authority of God. For those who had eyes to see and ears to hear, it was a liberating authority. We all need an authority of some sort as a reference point in life. The real issue is who or what will we take as our authority. The gospels assure is that Jesus embodies the authentic authority of God, an authority that empowers us to become fully human and fully alive