The Presentation Of The Lord
February 2, 2011
Luke’s Gospel begins and ends in the Temple, Jerusalem. It begins with the apparition of the archangel Gabriel to Zachary and ends with the apostles around Mary, the mother of the Lord, in constant prayer, awaiting the coming of the Holy Spirit.
The episode of the Presentation of the Infant Jesus in the Temple – the feast was formerly called the Purification of Our Lady – rounds off Luke’s description of the stories of Jesus’s birth.
According to Jewish Law, every firstborn belonged to the Lord and had to be ‘redeemed’ through the offering of ‘a pair of doves’. A woman was considered unclean for forty days after childbirth and her purification coincided with the offering made of her son in the Temple. Neither was Mary ‘impure’, nor had Jesus to be ‘redeemed’ by an offering. But this ceremony, like that of his circumcision earlier, is one more example of Jesus’s Jewish identity, his sharing in our common humanity, with all its rites, rituals and imperfections.
Luke’s depiction of the birth of Jesus is related to the theme of longing and fulfillment. Zachary and Elizabeth longed for a child; Israel was waiting expectantly for its messiah. In the Temple two aged and devout Jews, Simeon and Hannah, were praying for years for a sign from God to see the messiah before they passed away. This sign is given them when they are drawn to a very ordinary looking couple from Galilee with a baby in their arms.
Simeon holds the bab, and praises and thanks God for this child, “the deliverance sent to Israel, a light to the gentiles and the glory of your people.” Yet another theme, also a favourite with Luke, is stressed here: God’s salvation is meant for all, it is universal.
As the parents of little Jesus wonder once again at what is being said about their infant son, Simeon blesses them and speaks to Mary, the mother: “your son will be a sign of contradiction,” he says, “and he will break your heart.” Painful words, but so true!
All change comes about through resistance and negotiation, opposition and acceptance. It’s hard for those who love us to watch from the sidelines, as we surmount the odds. This was the destiny of Jesus and of his mother. Mary followed from afar the mission of her son, a journey which led him through the towns and villages of Galilee and Judaea, to his final death in Jerusalem. We know her heart ached whenever she heard of the reactions to what he said and did, for it was said that “many in Israel will stand or fall because of him.”