The book of Sirach, part of Israel’s Wisdom literature, observes ordinary circumstances of life, and addresses the question: “How do I live wisely?” To answer, Sirach reflects on our shared humanity and on the covenant relationship with God. In this passage, he considers anger, vengeance, and forgiveness, and God’s response to them.
When unchecked, anger can lead to vengeance, exacting an “eye for an eye,” or even more severe reprisals. Sirach may have seen this personally, or be thinking of the biblical teaching against vengeance: “Take no revenge and cherish no grudge against your own people.” (Leviticus 19:18) Through Moses, God declared that only he can affect retribution: “Vengeance is mine.” (Deuteronomy 32:35)
Sirach’s insights on vengeance and forgiveness have a twofold application. First, he exhorts people to let go of anger and any desire for retaliation, to always be ready to reconcile. Second, he emphasizes each person’s need for forgiveness. Certainly, we hope for human forgiveness, but Sirach focuses on divine forgiveness. The Lord will heal those who forgive their neighbors. At the end of life, we don’t want to take anger with us to the grave. Rather, we set enmity aside and rely on the mercy of our God who will overlook our faults, as we have overlooked those of others.
Remember that Jesus’s whole life answers the question, “How do I live wisely?”