The nothingness of humans (Sir 18:8-18:14)

“What are human beings?

What use are they?

What is good about them?

What is evil about them?

The number of days in their life is great,

If they reach one hundred years.

The death of each one

Is beyond the calculation of all.

Like a drop of water from the sea,

Like a grain of sand,

So are these few years

Among the days of eternity.

Therefore the Lord is patient with them.

He pours out his mercy upon them.

He sees them.

He recognizes

That their end is miserable.

Therefore he grants them forgiveness all the more.

The compassion of human beings

Is for their neighbors.

But the compassion of the Lord

Is for every living thing.

He rebukes them.

He trains them.

He teaches them.

He turns them back,

As a shepherd his flock.

He has compassion on those

Who accept his discipline.

He has compassion on those

Who are eager for his precepts.”

Sirach points out that human beings, in contrast to the greatness of God, are useless, like a later 20th century existential 1943 Jean Paul Sartre work, Being and Nothingness. They have a little good and little evil in them, but they have a short unpredictable life, at best 100 years long. Their lives are like a drop of water in the sea or a grain of sand on the shore compared to divine eternity. That is why the Lord is patient and merciful with them. He knows that they will come to a miserable end, so that he grants them forgiveness. While the compassion of humans is for their neighbors, the compassion of the Lord is for all living things. Like a theme later attributed to Jesus, Sirach sees the Lord as a shepherd who rebukes, trains, teaches, and takes his sheep back and forth. The Lord has compassion for those who accept his discipline and precepts.

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