The lesson appointed in the Daily Office lectionary for today from the Old Testament, Ecclesiasticus 38: 24-34, underscores something we all wrestle with from time to time. Do we continue in our everyday job and life business as usual or do we answer what seems to be a call to do something more. Is it enough to simply fulfill the requirements of job and family or does God require more in terms of dedicated service to him? In order to maintain a close relationship to God is it necessary to undertake a virtual second career dedicated to his worship?
When one reads of various clergymen and famous religious sages writing during past ages it strikes us that frequently these persons are at least bi vocational. They are almost always lawyers, and ordained clergymen, or some such combination. It is easy to presume that this is a norm and that we should all be this way but Yeshiva bar Sira, author of Ecclesiasticus (also known as the Wisdom of Jesus son of Sirach) counsels another way. Of those faithfully following their calling to everyday work he says:
“They do not sit in the judge’s seat, nor do they understand the sentence of judgment; they cannot expound the discipline or judgment, and they are not found using proverbs. But they keep stable the fabric of the world, and their prayer is in the practice of their trade. (Emphasis supplied)
While we should always maintain a steady prayer life and commensurate study it is of a comfort to know that in fulfilling our everyday life and work we are also praying and keeping stable the fabric of the world. Let us not worry about doing more, let us rather worry more about doing what we have been called to do well and with reverence.
A reading from the Book of Ecclesiasticus [38:24-34]
38:24 The wisdom of the scribe depends on the opportunity of leisure; and he who has little business may become wise.
38:25 How can he become wise who handles the plow, and who glories in the shaft of a goad, who drives oxen and is occupied with their work, and whose talk is about bulls?
38:26 He sets his heart on plowing furrows, and he is careful about fodder for the heifers.
38:27 So too is every craftsman and master workman who labors by night as well as by day; those who cut the signets of seals, each is diligent in making a great variety; he sets his heart on painting a lifelike image, and he is careful to finish his work.
38:28 So too is the smith sitting by the anvil, intent upon his handiwork in iron; the breath of the fire melts his flesh, and he wastes away in the heat of the furnace; he inclines his ear to the sound of the hammer, and his eyes are on the pattern of the object. He sets his heart on finishing his handiwork, and he is careful to complete its decoration.
38:29 So too is the potter sitting at his work and turning the wheel with his feet; he is always deeply concerned over his work, and all his output is by number.
38:30 He moulds the clay with his arm and makes it pliable with his feet; he sets his heart to finish the glazing, and he is careful to clean the furnace.
38:31 All these rely upon their hands, and each is skilful in his own work.
38:32 Without them a city cannot be established, and men can neither sojourn nor live there.
38:33 Yet they are not sought out for the council of the people, nor do they attain eminence in the public assembly. They do not sit in the judge’s seat, nor do they understand the sentence of judgment; they cannot expound discipline or judgment, and they are not found using proverbs.
38:34 But they keep stable the fabric of the world, and their prayer is in the practice of their trade.