Monday, 27 August 2007

Sirach on Gossip

I've been reading in Sirach of late as part of my daily Bible reading. Hadn't read it before, it being one of the deuterocanonical books. That, incidentally, is one of the cooler parts about going from Protestant Evangelical to Catholic- suddenly one has more books in the Bible. Brilliant! Like on Christmas morning when one thinks the gift-giving has come to an end, then without warning Father pulls from some hidden corner a bicycle or a puppy.

Anyway, Sirach. I went into it having no idea what sort of book it was. As it turns out, it belongs in the Wisdom Literature, along with Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and the rest. Quite long too. I'm up to ch25 and it shows no sign of letting up (just checked: it has 51 chapters. Gosh, its longer than Genesis! Hadn't realised that before). Quite enjoying it though. It has some admirable little tidbits and very quotable, such as "A slip on the pavement is better than a slip of the tongue" (Sir 20:18- I wonder if the pun exists in the original Hebrew as well) or "An ungracious man is like a story told at the wrong time." (Sir 20:19) Some are quite thought-provoking, like "The mind of fools is in their mouth, but the mouth of wise men is in their mind" (Sir 21:26) Still trying to work out exactly what that means.

One of the wonderful properties of Scripture, though, is to hold up a mirror to oneself and allow one to see oneself as one truly is. I had such an experience today.

One of my besetting sins is to tell tales out of school, as the expression goes. Coupled with this, given my inquisitive and curious nature, is the habitual desire to discover such tales in the first place, i.e. find out what is going on in people's lives (usually simply to satisfy my own curiosity) and pry into other people's affairs, often in subtle or manipulative ways (though probably not as subtle as I imagine).

So this morning, I read this: "He who controls his tongue will live without strife, and for one who hates gossip evil is lessened. Never repeat a conversation and you will lose nothing at all. With friend or foe do not report it, and unless it would be a sin for you, do not disclose it; for someone has heard you and watched you, and when the time comes he will hate you. Have you heard a word? Let it die with you. Be brave! It will not make you burst! With such a word a fool will suffer pangs like a woman in labour with a child. Like an arrow stuck in the flesh of the thigh, so is a word inside a fool." (Sir 19: 6-12)

This is pretty arresting stuff, I find. For oh, how well do I know those pangs when I want to say something given me in confidence (especially if I know the other person would really like to know) or share that really juicy anecdote. You've been complaining about so-and-so already, but listen, you don't know the half of it!

What does the Scripture say to me in that situation? It minces no words. You're a fool, it says (Ouch!). Hold your tongue. Be brave. It will not make you burst.

These are the words of Scripture to me. May I hear them and, by the grace of God, put them into practice. "O that a guard were set over my mouth, and a seal of prudence on my lips, that it may keep me from falling, so that my tongue may not destroy me." (Sir 22:27). To which I respond, Amen.

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