Mal. 3:1-4, Heb. 2:10-11, 13b-18; Luke. 2:22-40
Today we are celebrating the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord and the feast of Purification of our Lady in the Temple at Jerusalem. Their offering was later to find complete and perfect fulfilment in the mystery of the passion, death and Resurrection of the Lord. The liturgy of the day opens with the blessing of the candles and the procession to the altar to meet Christ and to recognize him “in the breaking of the bread” until he comes again in glory. While today’s readings echo both, the Presentation of the Lord to the Temple and the Purification of the Blessed Virgin, in its wisdom, the Catholic Church deemed it more praiseworthy to place emphasis on the Feast of the Lord Jesus. Our sanctification was constantly on the mind of Jesus. It was on His mind during His ministry. And it was on His mind when He prayed after the Last Supper. In His words, while praying to the Father, Jesus said, “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.” Today is also the day of consecrated life which necessarily passes through participation in the cross of Christ. This is how it seeks out Mary Most Holy. Hers is the suffering of the heart that is one with the Heart of the Son of God, pierced by love.
This feast proclaims Christ as the Light of the World. The event we are celebrating today takes us back to what Mary and Joseph did when, 40 days after the birth of Jesus when they presented their child to God as their firstborn son, complying with the Law of Moses. At the presentation in the Temple, Mary, the faithful Virgin who took part with him in the eternal plan of salvation, was with him as she was on Calvary. The traditional liturgy for the day is called Candlemas, because of its ancient rite of blessing of the candles to be used in the church for the next year — a practice dating from the middle of the fifth century. On this day the Church celebrates the Day of Consecrated Life in this setting of light, faith and hope. All those who have offered their life to Christ for ever for the coming of the Kingdom of God are invited to renew their “yes” to the special vocation they have received. The entire Ecclesial Community, however, also rediscovers the riches of the prophetic witness of consecrated life in the variety of its charisms and apostolic commitments.
The presentation of Jesus in the temple served two purposes; the first is the redemption of the first-born and the second is the purification of Mary. The first-born belonged to the Lord according to the Book of Exodus 13:1-2 but Numbers 18:15-16 tells us the first-born could be redeemed or bought back by paying five shekels. The purification of the mother in Jewish Law was purification from ritual uncleanness after childbirth. Of course Our Lady did not need this purification because she was a virgin before, during and after the birth of Jesus but went through this purification process to fulfil the Law. The purification was normally performed in the local synagogue but Mary and Joseph decided it should take place in the Temple. If the family could afford they would offer a one year old lamb, but if not they would offer two young pigeons. Joseph offered two young pigeons indicating the poverty experienced by the family and their inability to make a greater offering. Yet they show their total submission to Law and obey the norms prescribed by the Old Testament. It was the moment the baby Jesus who visited the Temple for the first time offered himself to the Father to fulfil the call of obedience. Mary offers herself to God as an act of thanksgiving for the choice God made of her as the mother of His only Son and thus fulfils her “yes” of the Annunciation.
In today’s First Reading we have the God’s word to prophet Malachi, who said that he was sending his messenger to prepare his way. God promised Malachi that the Leader whom the people were seeking would suddenly come to his Temple. So Malachi makes his prophecy that the Lord will enter his temple, there will be a renewed priesthood, and there will be a pure sacrifice offered worldwide pleasing to God. The Prophet then goes on to say that when the Lord enters the Temple he will purify everything sacred and refine the Levites so that they will offer a pure sacrifice to the Lord and then the sacrifice of Judah and Jerusalem will please the Lord. In other words the presence of the person of Lord who will be shining forth like a bright light and burning fire to purify like the goldsmith or the silver refinery would do. This purification will take place until they present offerings to the Lord in a spirit of justice and righteousness. The Prophet remembers the glory of the past when the offerings made by the people of Israel were perfect before God and Yahweh accepted them with love. Similarly the offerings made by the Lord who is purified in the Temple will be like the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the Lord as in the days of old and as in former years.
Today’s Second Reading from the Letter to the Hebrews teaches us that Jesus had to become like His brothers and sisters in every respect. To bring us to glory, Jesus was made our source of perfect salvation through sufferings. As we suffer in life, he suffered for our sake. Jesus was rejected by most of his own people. And he was even accused of being possessed by evil spirit. All of this he wholeheartedly endured for us. The Letter tells us that the one who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one Father. For this reason Jesus was not ashamed to call us brothers and sisters, saying, “Here am I, and the children whom God has given me.” As our Saviour Jesus emptied Himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness, so that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is the evil one. Through this tremendous act of love, He freed all of us who were held in slavery by the fear of death. When Jesus came into this world, he did not come to save the angels. He came to save the spiritual children of Abraham, all of us who believe in Him. For the sins of the people, Jesus made the perfect sacrifice of atonement to God, the self-sacrifice of every spark of life that was within Himself. As a merciful and faithful High Priest in the service of God who has been tested by what he has suffered, he is now able to help us who are being tested.
In the Gospel of today we have the persons of the Holy Family, Joseph, Mary and Jesus going to Jerusalem where they have to ritually redeem Jesus who was the first born in the family and where Mary herself will have to be ritually purified. The Gospel tells us of the prophesy and blessing of Simeon the Prophet. Today these three persons are given to us an example for all Christian families to look towards this earthly trinity as an example, inspiration and encouragement. We find all the three aspects in today’s Gospel. Whenever a Jewish couple became parents of a firstborn son, two ritual acts were required. First, they had to redeem the firstborn son or buy him back from the Lord because it was rightly to the Lord he belonged. The second ritual was the purification of the mother, which was aimed at making her ritually clean. Luke does not give us how these rituals were performed in the Temple. He shows their humble unquestionable obedience to the Mosaic Law, a law to which they were not really bound, is an example and encouragement to all. Mary because of the virginal conception and the birth of Jesus the Son of God did not need the legal purification. Jesus himself being the divine person did not have to be redeemed or purchased from God. His whole life on earth was going to be uninterrupted service of God. Joseph as Father and Head of the Family silently accompanies Mary and the child to Jerusalem. They perform the rights that were asked of them.
Luke in the gospel intends to show us that Mary and Joseph was a typical pious Jewish couple, who went to the Temple in obedience to do all that was required and expected of them by the Law. The fact that they were poor can be deduced from the detail that their sacrificial offering was the lowest required: a pair of turtle doves or two young pigeons. The common offering would be a lamb but exceptions were made for those who could not afford it. The Gospel tells us of the silent offering of the three persons of themselves to God, was a perfect offering. After this they returned to Nazareth to live a life of obscurity and poverty for the next thirty years. They were probably often short of necessities of life, the earnings of Joseph as a village carpenter may not have been high. They willingly accepted the simple ordinary life in a remote village, living in harmony, observing the laws prescribed, visiting the Temple and Synagogue and living an exemplary life. They indeed accepted God’s will and having understood partially at least the salvific role of Jesus, they were ready to accept the suffering and pain that came along the way. They are for us a true example of what a family life should be here on earth.
Today’s gospel speaks of two other persons Simeon and Anna, who are characterized as being lifelong righteous and devout Jews, who encounter Jesus, Mary and Joseph during their ritual visit in the Temple. Their purpose is simply to point out who Jesus really is and his destiny is going to be the salvation of Israel. There is dark and painful side of the Prophesy in that Simeon indicates that Jesus will run into many obstacles and Mary herself will have to suffer on his account. Simeon spoke guided by the Holy Spirit and this in reality was God’s greater plan. The old woman Anna, too, on seeing the child, breaks into praising God. And she spoke of him to all who looked forward to the liberation of Jerusalem. She gives her silent witness to the world’s longing for salvation through him. We look at the response of Mary and Joseph towards this sudden encounter. They were totally amazed by what these two prophets had to say. They are portrayed as being unaware that their son was anything other than ordinary first born son. Perhaps this was the time for Mary to ponder once more the Annunciation scene where the angel had told her that he would be king. Certainly it was time for Joseph and Mary to understand more fully their responsibility before God to protect the child and they return to Nazareth unfazed by all this. The Gospel tells us that in Nazareth Jesus grew into adulthood and grew in wisdom, while God’s favour was with him.
Mary, Joseph and Jesus model for us the life of the Holy Family. Joseph exhibited great trust in God and demonstrated intense devotion and love in caring for Mary and Jesus. Scripture does not quote a single word of Joseph, and yet his actions speak volumes of a strong man devoted to God and family. Mary, too, showed tremendous faith in God and trusted in God’s love for her. As wife, she helped Joseph in his quest for holiness. As mother, she cared for Jesus with great love and tenderness. Both Mary and Joseph created the environment which allowed Jesus to grow in wisdom and age and favour before God and man. Jesus, for his part, was obedient to Mary and Joseph and obviously loved them both very much. Out of great love for his Father and for us, he was obedient to all that God asked of him, including death on a cross. This type of sacrificial love for the other defines a significant attribute of a holy family– a love that allows all in the family to flourish in their quest for holiness.
While today’s readings echo both, the Presentation of the Lord to the Temple and the Purification of the Blessed Virgin, in its wisdom, the Catholic Church deemed it more praiseworthy to place emphasis on the Feast of the Lord Jesus. The Gospel presents us with the offering of Mary and Joseph of Jesus to God and Mary offering herself for the salvation of humanity. The challenge for us is to adopt the spirit of Simeon and Anna – to not be afraid of what lies ahead because we have a God who surely hears our prayers and comes to our assistance in ways beyond our imagining. We should all pray to have this wonderful trust that inspires the dying Simeon to say, “Now, Master, your servant can go in peace for I have seen the salvation our people – the salvation that you promised us.” Again, more importantly we turn our attention to Mary, who carries our Lord, still an infant, into the Temple. It won’t be the first time that we will see Mary and Jesus in the Temple – we will see them again when Jesus is about twelve and Mary and Joseph go to find Him in the Temple, arguing with the Jewish elders.
Finally, we will see the Temple of our Lord’s body being broken at Calvary, this time just yards outside of Jerusalem – Mary, this time – at the foot of the Cross. And so, let us briefly examine these three scenes: First, the infant Jesus in the Temple for the Presentation. In this second scene, the infant Jesus is now a child – full of zeal for His Father’s house that He is about His Father’s business. Finally, the third scene – this time, the Temple is the body of Jesus being broken on the Cross. These are some the mysteries of our Faith. Let us find great comfort and great confidence in knowing that the very mother, who willed to present Jesus to the Father, now stands ready, to present us in the same way. May the hope that is grounded in our faith inspire us to continue to trust that peace in the world and in our land can be ours if we consent, like Mary, to greater obedience to the will of the Father.
Gopal Mukherjee was a young little boy fond of reading books and learning new things in life. He was extremely quiet by nature but was always prayerful since his young days. One day when he busy reading a book and enjoying it his mother called him out and said, Gopal, I want you go out and meet the man there. The young boy in curiosity went out and there what he saw surprised him. There was a Holy Man, a mendicant who was doing acrobatic tricks and somersaults to amuse the village kids. Gopal went and stood close to him as his mother asked him. The man asked the young boy, son what you want to do. Gopal replied, sir, I want to play. The man said, look, do you want to play with God. The boy kept quiet. The man continued, look, everyone takes God seriously and no one wants to play with him. Will you play with God? Goal says in his later writings that this word changed his life that he could play with God.
Fr. Eugene Lobo S.J., Mangalore, India