For the past few days, my reading has taken me to the book of Ecclesiasticus, in the Apocrypha. This book, also known as the Wisdom of Sirach , was written by the Jewish Scribe, Ben Sira, in the period between the Old and New Testaments.
I must admit to not being familiar with the book, which is full of great advice to live a godly life.
Today’s reading in chapter 31 had these words:
Are you seated at the table of the great?
Do not be greedy at it,
and do not say, ‘How much food there is here!’
Do not reach out your hand for everything you see,
and do not crowd your neighbour at the dish.
Judge your neighbour’s feelings by your own,
and in every matter be thoughtful.
Eat what is set before you like a well-bred person,
and do not chew greedily, or you will give offence.
Be the first to stop, as befits good manners,
and do not be insatiable, or you will give offence.
If you are seated among many others,
do not help yourself before they do.
How ample a little is for a well-disciplined person!
He does not breathe heavily when in bed.
Healthy sleep depends on moderate eating;
he rises early, and feels fit.
Eating with others is, or at least should be, a great leveller. When we sit around a table, especially perhaps with strangers, there’s an opportunity to learn more about the conditions under which they live.
On the face of it, Ben Sira’s words are good advice as we sit around the meal table – not to be greedy, but think of others. Essential ways to promote healthy living in community. As I thought about these words, it seemed to me that they can also help us think about greed on a larger scale.
In the context of the current COP 26 talks, imagine that the world is one great meal table. We were watching the BBC programme ‘Panorama’ last night and it brought home the crisis that we are living through – or dying through for many.
As we observe the inequalities in the world – the poor suffering most from the effects of the climate change that the rich nations have caused, we are looking at a level of ‘greed that serves the indiscipline of the entitled.’ (Walter Brueggemann).
Another of my readings today struck me forcibly. it’s from Psalm 50. In the psalm, God is the one speaking, but as I read it today, I imagined that this was the earth speaking: (The Bible quotes below are in italics, the other words are mine). Just change the word God and replace it with ‘The Earth’
The earth has been silent, but now it speaks.
The mighty one, God the Lord, speaks and summons … our God comes and does not keep silence, (verse 1)
These things you have done and I have been silent; you thought that I was one just like yourself. But now I rebuke you, and lay the charge before you. (Verse 21)
In just this last year, we have seen unprecedented fires out of control, and floods devastating whole communities.
before him is a devouring fire, and a mighty tempest all around him. (Verse 3)
Unless the human race changes, the consequences – that are already evident – will only get worse
Mark this, then, you who forget God, or I will tear you apart, and there will be no one to deliver. (Verse 22)
Am I stretching the words of scripture ? I don’t think so.
I am praying this prayer from CAFOD, the Catholic development agency.
We praise your name with all you have created.
You are present in the whole universe,
and in the smallest of creatures.
We acknowledge the responsibilities you have placed upon us
as stewards of your creation.
May the Holy Spirit inspire all political leaders at COP26 as they
seek to embrace the changes needed to foster a more sustainable society.
Instil in them the courage and gentleness to implement fairer solutions
for the poorest and most vulnerable,
and commit their nations to the care of Our Common Home.
We ask this through Our Lord Jesus Christ your Son. Amen