The Book of Sirach is classified with the Wisdom literature of the Old Testament, which includes the Books of Ecclesiastes, Job, and Proverbs. Some scholars regard it as the final outstanding specimen of that form of literature and the first example of the kind of Jewish thought developed subsequently by the Pharisaic and Sadducean schools. It derives its name from the author, Jesus, son of Eleazar, son of Sirach (Sir. 50:27) and its earliest title seems to have been "Wisdom of the Son of Sirach". In the ancient times it was known by the designation "Liber Ecclesiasticus," meaning "Church Book," due to the extensive use which the church made of this book in presenting moral teaching to catechumens and to the faithful.
The book was originally written in Hebrew language between 200 and 175 B.C. Later on the text was translated into Greek sometime after 132 B.C. by the author's grandson, who also wrote a Foreword. The author might have been a sage who lived in Jerusalem, one who was thoroughly imbued with love for the law, the priesthood, the temple, and divine worship. The Book of Sirach is included in the Canon of the Greek Bible called Septuaginta, which was considered to be the Bible used by Early Christian writers. The Catholic Church as well as the Orthodox Churches as divinely inspired and canonical has always recognized it. Sirach mainly consists of a series of loosely related maxims and other sayings of a proverbial nature, much in the manner of the Book of Proverbs.
Regarding the approach to the process of learning there is a qualitative difference between in the students of the ancient days and those of today. Since the basics of education are sacrificed in this age of globalization and market economy the modern student does not possess a reverential attitude towards learning. The field of education has been corrupted and today it is a matter of business only. If the European missionaries considered education and health care as two important areas of mission, even modern Churches see them as good commodities for sale. The students are exploited and there is no ethics in the deal. What are the major forces, which can motivate a student in such a situation? Let us examine the five tips suggested for students in the text of our discussion.
Wisdom as top priority (Sir.6:18)
The author of the Book of Sirach offers instruction on how to conduct oneself wisely in all areas of life. In addition to its numerous, diverse instructions, Sirach contains several long poems that celebrate wisdom (1:1-20, 24:1-22). He identifies wisdom with the divine law (24:23) and presents it as uncreated in chapter 24. Wisdom speaks to us as a divine person. As a continuation of this theology regarding wisdom Early Christian writers considered it in anticipation or foreshadowing of the Logos, or word of God (see John 1:1-18).
It is a wonderful idea that wisdom originates in God. This is not only true of the subjects like theology and philosophy but also of the disciplines like physical and natural sciences. What is actually happening when we study physics or mathematics or history? The study of Physics and Chemistry help us to know the depth of the universe created by God. We come nearer to God by appreciating the works of His hand. Botany and Zoology guide us in learning the secrets of life. If Mathematics helps us explain the inner functioning of the world, history teaches us the data of the past. So any kind of learning is in a way a search for knowing God and the universe created by Him. A real student learns his lessons neither for the sake of exams nor for getting a good placement. Rather he does it out of his thirst for wisdom.
Work ethics of a farmer (Sir. 6:19)
A farmer is the best model for a student as far as the work ethics is concerned. The farmer sows seeds on time, watches the field and the plants regularly with meticulous attention, gives water and manure to the plants, removes weeds and sprays pesticides, and makes use of the climate for the betterment of the crop. He gets good yield as well as satisfaction of being a farmer. This can be a good example for a student. The student has to put his whole attention on learning. He should avoid unnecessary involvements and spend his whole time for the search of wisdom.
Discipline in all areas of life (Sir. 6:22)
Discipline is something which makes one a disciple. Everybody thinks of a soldier when the word discipline is mentioned. His uniform, schedule of a day and even the food habits declare his discipline. In the case of a student such an attitude is needed in all matters of his life beginning from his eating and extending up to his thinking. Laziness is the biggest enemy of a disciplined person. Charles Schultz is right in saying: “life is like a ten-speed bicycle, most of us have gears we never use”.
The biggest problem of the modern youth is the irregularity in the life style. For these there is no discipline in the schedule of a day; they rise up late in the morning just before the tram leaves; they go to bed when the TV programs become boring. They lack discipline in choosing books to read, in selecting the channels, movies and websites. They don’t enjoy the music which the greatest genii of the world composed. The selection of other things in their life will be as bad as the above, be it a friend, a partner or a job.
Empowerment through religious people (Sir. 6:35)
The word “religious” was not ambiguous in the days of Sirach as today; it had only a positive meaning in those days. The religious leaders were spiritual and they were the guardians of morality. They were considered as people who share the wisdom of God and who understand the secrets of the fathomless nature. That is the reason why the author of Sirach asks his readers to seek religious people if they really thirst for wisdom. He underlines this fact throughout the book. His maxim is: “Get to know the people around you as well as you can, and take advice only from those who are qualified to give it” (Sir. 9:14). A mentor or a guide of this caliber will help a student bring out the best out of him. Modern students should stop imitating celebrities and should follow people of learning and great integrity. They may not be as popular as a sports star or a Hollywood actor.
Maintaining the commands of our Lord (Sir. 6:37)
The biggest blunder of modern students is their carelessness for the Scripture and the commandments of the Lord. They do not find enough time for daily devotion as well as weekly services. They yearn for material prosperity and they think that the worldly comforts are the most coveted things in life. But the Book of Sirach is uncompromising as far as the Lord’s commandment is concerned: “Fear the Lord and keep his law, that is wisdom is all about” (Sir.19:20). Those who put their trust in God and follow the Scriptural teachings will have success in their life. They will be able to overcome sufferings, failures and disappointments. At the end of their life they will have a smile on their face.