By Annette Brownlee

A Reading from Sirach 31:12-18, 25; 32:2

12 Are you seated at the table of the great?
Do not be greedy at it,
and do not say, “How much food there is here!”
13 Remember that a greedy eye is a bad thing.
What has been created more greedy than the eye?
Therefore it covers the face with tears.
14 Do not reach out your hand for everything you see,
and do not crowd your neighbor at the dish.
15 Judge your neighbor’s feelings by your own,
and in every matter be thoughtful.
16 Eat what is set before you like a well brought-up person,
and do not chew greedily, or you will be despised.
17 Be the first to stop, as befits good manners,
and do not be insatiable, or you will give offense.
18 If you are seated among many persons,
do not help yourself before they do.
25 Do not try to prove your strength by wine-drinking,
for wine has destroyed many.

2  When you have fulfilled all your duties, take your place,
so that you may be merry along with them
and receive a wreath for your excellent leadership.


Some Protestants are quite uncomfortable that the lectionary contains readings from the Apocrypha. They come by this reaction honestly. In the 16th century, Puritans forbade the use of these books as a part of their commitment to sola scriptura. The 1646 Westminster Confession declares, “The books commonly called Apocrypha, not being of divine inspiration, are no part of the Canon of the Scripture; and therefore are of no authority in the Church of God.”

But the Apocrypha are found in the earliest translations of the Bible. The reception of them by Jerome, Athanasius, Luther, Calvin, and others is stated in the 39 Articles and remains the Anglican church’s teaching on them to this day:“The church doth read for example and life and instruction of manners; but yet doth it not apply them to establish any doctrine.”

So what does this passage teach us about life? It warns of the power of our appetites, here food and drink, in the context of our neighbor. This is not just a teaching about moderation in food and drink (think Mediterranean diet). It is about the destructive power of greed. Here it warns of the power of the greedy eye (31:13). This passage is about the greedy eye’s appetites for food and wine. We could expand this list a hundredfold. How much is greed at the heart of the corruption of nations and economic injustice?

This Apocryphal teaching is about the corruptive power of our greedy eyes, even in daily things. Scripture tells us what to do with our eyes, knowing greed’s power to destroy. “I will set no worthless things before my eyes,” the psalmist declares (Ps. 101:3). Instead, “since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith” (Heb. 12:1).

The Rev. Dr. Annette Brownlee is chaplain, director of field education, and professor of pastoral theology at Wycliffe College, Toronto. She also assists and preaches at St. Paul’s L’Amoreaux in Scarborough.

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St. George’s Church, Dayton, Ohio
The Diocese of New Hampshire


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