The Prophet Elijah – Famine, Fury, Fire – Thursday, 11th week in ordinary time – Sirach 48:1-14

If you have been following my daily blog or the YouTube videos you will at once ask yourself why do we have a reading from Sirach when we are bang smack in the middle of the book of Kings (remember the book of Kings was originally one book and not two). The Church wants us to look at Elijah once more before we move on. Having read in the Book of Kings the story of the great prophet Elijah, we now read about him in poetic description. This is Sirach’s praise of the prophet.

It is quite normal in our liturgical readings that, after we have been hearing about one of the great personalities of the Old Testament, there is a final encomium (a speech or piece of writing that praises someone or something highly). We had a similar reading after hearing about David’s life. Today we hear a summary of Elijah’s ministry.

This poetic piece of praise is taken from the Book of Sirach, also known as Ecclesiasticus. The book of Sirach is one of the ‘apocryphal’ books, which are part of our Catholic Bible but are not included in the Bibles of the Jews or other Christian denominations. It is also known as ‘Ecclesiasticus’, and is not to be confused with Ecclesiastes, a book accepted by all denominations.

Why was this book written? It was written in a period of challenge and questioning as Judaism prepared to enter a new phase. By about 200 B.C. there were more Jews living outside Palestine than in there. Although the Greek king, Antiochus III was tolerant of Jewish customs, yet Hellenistic ( Greek culture and language) influence continued to come into Jewish society. In Jerusalem, the upper classes were tempted to look on their own literature as lower than Greek drama, poetry, and philosophy. So Sirach wrote to address the young Jews of his day, to try to keep them from falling under the spell of Hellenism. The work was originally written by Jeshua ben Eleazar ben Sira.

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