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Home » Daily Readings, Old Testament, Wisdom

To Turn the Hearts of the Fathers

Submitted by on Saturday, 11 December 2010No Comment


  • Reading I:  Sirach 48:1-4,9-11
  • Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 80:2ac and 3b, 15-16, 18-19
  • Gospel Reading: Matthew 17:9a, 10-13

The Homage to Elijah

Sirach gives homage to Elijas as part of his review of the great men of Israel’s history. Those who are familiar with the stories of Elijah in 1 Kings 17:1-2 Kings 1:18 would recognize in Sirach’s praises a summary of the prodigies of Elijah.

Towards the end of the his homage, Sirach turns to the role that Elijah will play in the last days:

to put an end to wrath before the Day of the Lord;
to turn back the hearts of fathers towards their sons
and to re-establish the tribes of Jacob

The statement is based on Malachi’s prophecy about the Last Days:

Know that I am going to send you Elijah the prophet before my day comes, that great and terrible day.
He shall turn the hearts of fathers towards their children and the hearts of children towards their father
lest I come and strike the land with a curse. (Mal. 3:23)

Note that in Malachi, the completeness of the reconciliation between fathers and children is underscored. In Sirach, the restoration of the tribes of Jacob is associated with the mission to reconcile fathers and sons.

In the salvation history of the Old Testament, it was crucial that the fathers passed on to their sons the memory of the deeds of the Lord. Ritually, they did this on the night of the celebration of the Passover where the youngest child asked the family why that particular day is so special and the oldest member gave the answer. But something went wrong along the way since we read stories about good fathers who had wicked sons. In other words, either the fathers did not pass on the memory of the Lord, or the children did not care to listen, or both. And so we come across accounts where succeeding generations of Israelites went so far away from the ways of the Lord so that even the prophets could say: "they have done worse than their fathers". It becomes clear then in the last days, the restoration of the tribes of Israel will be made possible when the hearts of the fathers have been turned to their children.

Interesting is the passage in Luke where Malachi’s prophecy is applied to the son of Zechariah. The angel Gabriel says the following about the future son of Zechariah.

He will be filled with the holy Spirit even from his mother’s womb,
and he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God.
He will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah to turn the hearts of fathers toward children and the disobedient to the understanding of the righteous,
to prepare a people fit for the Lord." (Luke 1:16-17)

Notice the parallelism used here with a-b-b1-a1 pattern:

to turn the hearts 
                  of the fathers (a)
                   toward children (b)
                 and the disobedient (b1)
to the understanding 
                 of the righteous (a)

In this parallelism, the scope of "fathers" and "children" are widened to include the "wise" and the "foolish", respectively. In the Wisdom books (e.g. Proverbs) the wise/parents are the ones who instruct the children/undisciplined who at worst become "disobedient".

Sirach 48:1-4,9-11
View in: NAB NIV KJV Vulg LXX
1And Elias the prophet stood up, as a fire, and his word burnt like a torch.
2He brought a famine upon them, and they that provoked him in their envy, were reduced to a small number, for they could not endure the commandments of the Lord.
3By the word of the Lord he shut up the heaven, and he brought down fire from heaven thrice.
4Thus was Elias magnified in his wondrous works. And who can glory like to thee?
9Who wast taken up in a whirlwind of fire, in a chariot of fiery horses.
10Who art registered in the judgments of times to appease the wrath of the Lord, to reconcile the heart of the father to the son, and to restore the tribes of Jacob.
11Blessed are they that saw thee, and were honoured with thy friendship.
Psalm 80:2
View in: NAB NIV KJV NJB Vulg LXX Hebrew
2Give ear, O thou that rulest Israel: thou that leadest Joseph like a sheep. Thou that sittest upon the cherubims, shine forth
Matthew 17:9
View in: NAB NIV KJV NJB Vulg Greek
9And as they came down from the mountain, Jesus charged them, saying: Tell the vision to no man, till the Son of man be risen from the dead.
1 Kings 17:1-2
View in: NAB NIV KJV NJB Vulg LXX Hebrew
1And Elias the Thesbite of the inhabitants of Galaad said to Achab: As the Lord liveth the God of Israel, in whose sight I stand, there shall not be dew nor rain these years, but according to the words of my mouth.
2And the word of the Lord came to him, saying:
Luke 1:16-17
View in: NAB NIV KJV NJB Vulg Greek
16And he shall convert many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God.
17And he shall go before him in the spirit and power of Elias; that he may turn the hearts of the fathers unto the children, and the incredulous to the wisdom of the just, to prepare unto the Lord a perfect people.

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