Posted by: Philip Rushton | June 11, 2013

An Offering Of Well-Being: How a changed world starts with a changed life.

“One who heeds the commandments makes an offering of well-being.” Sirach 35:2

These words stood out to me when I heard them on a podcast last week called pray-as-you-go. This is a great devotional tool that leads the listener through a time of contemplative prayer and reflection on scripture. During the podcast there is short scripture reading, followed by guided reflection questions and space to think and pray. You can download this podcast at http://www.pray-as-you-go.org/

Perhaps the reason why this verse caught my attention is because I have never heard it before. It comes from the book of Sirach, which is not part of scripture in the Protestant tradition. It remains in the Apocrypha, which is part of the Catholic bible.

This passage is all about moving beyond surface spirituality. Like David in Psalm 51, the writer argues that God desires repentance rather than ritual. Instead of going through the motions of offering ritual sacrifices in the temple, God really wants to see people’s lives changed.

This, “offering of well-being,” refers to one of the ritual sacrifices in Jewish spirituality. It is also known as the fellowship or peace offering. As D.A. Carson explains, “the Hebrew name for this sacrifice (šelāmı̂m) is derived from the root šalēm, which means ‘to be complete, or whole’, and is related, therefore, to šālôm, the word for wholeness, welfare and peace.”

The way the writer of Sirach appropriates this idea of a peace offering makes a profound point. This verse suggests that when we work toward holiness and righteousness we are offering the gift of well-being to our world. Our personal commitment to follow the ways of God forms us to be agents of peace and shalom to those with whom we interact.

This has been an important reminder to me after coming from an inspirational week at Duke Divinity School. I came back from the summer institute ready to reconcile the world! What this text suggests, however, is that our ability to change the world starts by being changed ourselves. We cannot talk about reconciliation and peace on a grand scale without first attending to our own need to be at peace with God and others.

mustard_seed1I have had the image of “mustard seeds” in my mind all week. This is a central image that Jesus uses to describe the kingdom of heaven. These were the smallest of seeds in the ancient world and yet they produced a large tree. Jesus uses this image to remind us that his kingdom is built through small and simple ways. Peace is not attained solely at the level of programs and legislation. It starts with kind words and sacrificial acts of love.

When you think about it, Jesus’s plan to change the world was to spend three years discipling and loving twelve uneducated Galileans. He believed he could start a revolution of peace and grace if he could get 12 people to learn how to follow the ways of God. Martin Thorton suggests that we could learn from Jesus here. He writes, “a walloping great congregation is fine, and fun, but what most communities really need is a couple of saints.”

So friends, as we continue to seek shalom and peace in our world, let us start small. This journey toward reconciliation begins by taking our own journey of discipleship seriously. It is only as we learn to heed the commandments of God that we can bring an offering of well-being and shalom to our world. Our personal spiritual journey is inextricably connected to our impact on society.

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