The Presentation of the Lord, February 2nd
When the days were completed for their purification according to the law of Moses, they took him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord, just as it is written in the law of the Lord, “Every male that opens the womb shall be consecrated to the Lord, and to offer the sacrifice of “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons,” in accordance with the dictate in the law of the Lord.
Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon. This man was righteous and devout, awaiting the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he should not see death before he had seen the Messiah of the Lord. He came in the Spirit into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus to perform the custom of the law in regard to him, he took him into his arms and blessed God, saying: “Now, Master, you may let your servant go in peace, according to your word, for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you prepared in sight of all the peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and glory for your people Israel.”
The child’s father and mother were amazed at what was said about him; and Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, “Behold, this child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted (and you yourself a sword will pierce) so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.” There was also a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was advanced in years, having lived seven years with her husband after her marriage, and then as a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple, but worshiped night and day with fasting and prayer. And coming forward at that very time, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were awaiting the redemption of Jerusalem.
When they had fulfilled all the prescriptions of the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom and favor of God was upon him.
- Today’s Gospel teaches that Jesus’ gift of salvation is offered to the whole world. What does this truth demand of us who are disciples of Jesus?
- Have you made a decision about Jesus? What is your decision?
- Why is Mary the perfect model of discipleship?
Luke 2: 22-40
Margaret Ralph Nutting PHD
Only in Luke do we read the beautiful story of Jesus’ presentation in the temple and of the witness of Simeon and Anna. Luke tells us, ‘When the days were completed for their purification according to the law of Moses, Mary and Joseph took Jesus up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord….” Mary and Joseph were obedient Jews. In this story they are fulfilling two laws, one requiring the purification of the mother and the other the presentation of the baby.
The Book of Leviticus describes the ritual purification necessary for a woman who gives birth to a boy. “When a woman has conceived and gives birth to a boy, she shall be unclean for seven days, with the same uncleanness as at her menstrual period. On the eighth day, the flesh of the boy’s foreskin shall be circumcised, and then she shall spend thirty-three days more in becoming purified of her blood; she shall not touch anything sacred nor enter the sanctuary till the days of her purification are fulfilled” (Lev 12:2-4). It is these forty days that Luke says have been fulfilled as our reading begins. The verse immediately preceding today’s reading tells us that Jesus had just been circumcised: “When eight days were completed for his circumcision, he was named Jesus, the name given him by the angel before he was conceived in the womb” (Luke 2:21).
Leviticus directs that after the days of purification are complete the woman must “bring to the priest at the entrance of the meeting tent a yearling lamb for a holocaust and a pigeon or a turtledove for a sin offering If, however, she cannot afford a lamb, she may take two turtledoves or two pigeons, the one for a holocaust and the other for a sin offering” (Lev 12:6, 8). Mary and Joseph are evidently poor, because Luke tells us that they are obeying the law that allows them to present “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.
The Book of Exodus describes both the requirement and the reason for the presentation of the firstborn. Right after their departure from Israel Moses tells the people, “When the Lord, your God, has brought you into the land of the Canaanites, which he swore to you and your fathers he would give you, you shall dedicate to the Lord every son that opens the womb…If your son should ask you later on, ‘What does this mean?’ you shall tell him, ‘With a strong hand the Lord brought us out of Egypt, that place of slavery…. That is why I sacrifice to the Lord everything of the male sex that opens the womb, and why I redeem every first-born of my sons” (Exod 13:11- 12, 14, 15b). As we see, Luke pictures Mary and Joseph fulfilling the law for Mary’s purification and the law for Jesus’ presentation at the same time.
Once at the temple, Mary, Joseph, and the infant encounter Simeon. Luke tells us that Simeon was “righteous and devout, awaiting the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him.” That Simeon await[s] the consolation of Israel” means that Simeon awaits the fulfillment of God’s covenant promises to God’s people. Specifically, it had been revealed to Simeon “that he should not see death before he had seen the Christ of the Lord.” The Jewish expectation of a Christ is core to their understanding of covenant. Since God had promised to protect, whenever the Israelites were overwhelmed by a political enemy they expected a Christ, an anointed one of God, to come and free them.
Luke places on Simeon’s lips the church’s post resurrection understanding of Jesus’ true identity. On seeing Jesus, Simeon declares that he is ready for death,
“for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you prepared in sight of all the peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and glory for your people Israel.”
Luke does not have Matthew’s story of the wise men coming to offer Jesus homage. However, through Simeon’s words Luke teaches the same thing: the salvation that Jesus offers is offered to the whole world. Jesus is a light of revelation not just for his own people, the Jews, but for all peoples.
Simeon then says to Mary, “Behold, this child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted— and you yourself a sword will pierce—so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.” Here Luke is foreshadowing Jesus’ passion and death. He also has Simeon remind Mary of something that will be played out throughout Luke’s two-volume work, his Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles.
The sword that will pierce Mary will be both a sword of suffering and a sword of discernment. Mary will suffer with Jesus. In addition, Mary, like every other person, will have a decision to make about Jesus. Mary s final closeness to Jesus will be not because she is biologically his mother but because she too has become his disciple. Jesus himself will say, “My mother and brothers are those who hear the word of God and act on it” (Luke 8:21). Only Luke brings Mary on stage so that we see her become a disciple of her son. Luke shows us Mary at the annunciation as she wholeheartedly accepts God’s will in her life with the words, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38). Luke shows that Mary does become her son’s disciple as he pictures her present with the first community of believers after the ascension (see Acts 1:14). Were it not for Luke’s Gospel and Acts we would not have the source texts for our great love and admiration for Mary.
As is often the case in Luke’s Gospel, a male figure is accompanied by a female figure. So far in Luke we have met Mary and Elizabeth; now we meet Anna. Anna, too, is in the temple, worshiping night and day with fasting and prayer. She too gives witness to Jesus’ identity. Anna “gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were awaiting the redemption of Jerusalem.”
Choice of the Happy
Paige Byrne Shortal
On my way home from our kids’ school I have to make a left turn off a busy state highway onto the small country road where we live. I start slowing down early and hope that folks behind me will slow down, too. As I look in my rearview mirror, waiting to make my turn, I find my- self whispering, “Please see me.”
This is a common prayer. Children beg, “Mommy, watch me!” The student hopes for a personal connection with a teacher. The beautiful and the not-so beautiful (by whatever standards) hope to be admired for something more than their looks. A teenager wants to be perceived as a person of consequence and the older person longs not only to be noticed, but enjoyed.
In today’s Gospel we hear about characters who wouldn’t be well- regarded by most people. There’s an elderly widow who hangs around the temple praying all day. Even the pious tend to avoid such a person. There’s an old man who has been waiting all his life to behold the Messiah. A poor couple with a questionable story from a no-count village in a no-count country. And a baby.
It is these characters — Anna, Simeon, Joseph, Mary and Jesus — who are featured on a new icon designed by the Pontifical Council on the Family. The title of the icon is “His mercy extends from genera- tion to generation.” In an address to this council last October, Pope Francis said, “Children and the elderly represent the two poles of life and are also the most vulnerable and often the most forgotten group. A society that abandons its children or marginal- izes its elderly members not only carries out an act of injustice, but also sanctions the failure of that society [emphasis mine].”
How is our society doing, do you think? How many children are raised far away from grandparents who would dote on them and make them feel secure and loved? How many elders are desperately lonely, attended to by strangers in institutions where they sit throughout the long day with empty laps and no one to hear their stories?
Not only are many of our elders marginalized, so are those who care for them. Nursing homes are huge moneymakers for a few, but the ones who do the day-today care are paid little better than minimum wage. The same is true for those who care for little children. And teachers’ salaries certainly don’t reflect the value of their work.
The only excuse for ugly, unequipped, poorly staffed schools and nursing “homes,” which are more like prisons than homes, is that money is spent on something else. Our schools and nursing homes could be palaces — and maybe on the same campuses, so old and young could know and enjoy each other.
Perhaps societies and families should consider more carefully the cost of separation, particularly to our elders and our young ones. Companies that reward workers who leave their families for a good “career move” may not be computing the actual cost. And while I’m beginning to understand what winter does to old bones, elders who leave their families for warmer climes also pay a price.
To be happy we need to take care of each other, even if taking care only means hanging out together, eating supper, watching a movie, reading a book, kissing everyone goodnight. As Pope Francis continued in his address: “Taking care of the young and the elderly is the choice of civilization.” It may also be the choice of the happy.
Selections from Breaking Open the Lectionary: Lectionary Readings in Their Biblical Context for RCIA, Faith Sharing Groups, and Lectors—Cycle A, by Margaret Nutting Ralph, Copyright © 2007 by Margaret Nutting Ralph. Paulist Press, Inc., New York/Mahwah, NJ. Reprinted by permission of Paulist Press, Inc