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February 28, 2019: Thursday of the Seventh Week in Ordinary Time [I]

Reading Sirach 5:1-8
Gospel Mark 9:41-50

Delay not your conversion to the Lord, put it not off from day to day.

Following the past several days’ meditations on accepting the discipline of wisdom and the mercy of the Lord, today’s First Reading is negative in tone. That is, Sirach exhorts us seven times what not to do as we nurture our relationship with wisdom and the Lord. Any one of these seven could nourish our prayer for the entire day today.

Consider the sixth exhortation. “Delay not your conversion to the Lord, put it not off from day to day. For suddenly his wrath flames forth; at the time of vengeance you will be destroyed. Like most of these seven exhortations, this one has two parts: a direct negative command, and a reason for not doing so.

We might consider Sirach’s reason for this sixth exhortation to be harsh and punitive, like so much else in the Old Testament. We might consider such a warning as meaningless in the light of the mercy that Jesus reveals to us. Nonetheless, our image of Jesus is two-dimensional if we think that He didn’t take seriously the possibility of eternal punishment for sin. There is a time and place for reflection on the real possibility of Hell. With the First Reading of today’s Mass, the Church chosen today as that time.