Year B: Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph
The Presentation in The Temple
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 Christ 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 the favor of God was upon him.
- As we approach what could be another winter of social isolation, what new spiritual longings and wisdom are you aware of given your experience last year? Explain
- How has your idea of holy(wholeness) and family evolved as a result of this past year? Are there any new insights you have about acceptance, gratitude or frustrations and response?
- Making this passage our own, Jesus is presented to us each day. In what ways do you recognize Jesus being “presented to you” in the context of your life at this time?
- How has the pandemic brought new blessings to your experience of family and church this year?
Margaret Nutting Ralph
To understand Luke’s story of Jesus’ presentation in the temple we must know a little about infancy narratives. Infancy narratives are a distinct literary form. They are written, not to respond to the question, “How can we tell the story of this person’s birth exactly as it happened?” but to respond to the question, “How can we tell the story of this person’s birth so that people will understand just how great he became?”
At the core of an infancy narrative are historical events: Jesus was born in a definable location and in a definable time in history. Jesus’ parents were Mary and Joseph. They were Jewish and were faithful to Jewish practices. However, the story is not told just to recount these facts. The story is told in hindsight to teach what was understood about the person after that person had become great. The infancy narratives about Jesus are post-resurrection stories that teach what was understood about Jesus after the resurrection, after the post-resurrection appearances, and after the coming of the Spirit.
An understanding of the infancy-narrative literary form resolves some misunderstandings that people might have when reading the story. For instance, someone might ask, “Why? given the fact of the annunciation, were Mary and Joseph ‘amazed at what was said about him’?” This question would be difficult to answer if we thought we were reading simply a historical account. However, we are reading stories that grew up in oral tradition, independent of each other, stories that the Gospel editor arranged in their present order.
What post-resurrection understandings is Luke teaching by including this story in his narrative? First, Luke is teaching that Jesus is the fulfillment of God’s promises to Israel. Luke describes Simeon “righteous and devout, awaiting the consolation of Israel?” and says that he “should not see death before he had seen the Christ of the Lord.” These details are references to God’s covenant relationship with the Israelites. Part of God’s covenant promise was that God would protect the chosen people. As a result of God’s promise to love and protect them, the Israelites, through the centuries, expected God to send an anointed one, a Christ (Christ and messiah both mean “an anointed one”) to save them from their political enemies. Luke pictures Simeon announcing that God has been faithful to God’s promises, and that Jesus is the fulfillment of those promises. Even though Jesus is a different kind of messiah from the one the people were expecting.
Another post-resurrection understanding that Luke is teaching is that the salvation that Jesus has accomplished is for all nations. Simeon says,
“…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. ”
This insight is very important for Luke because his audience is primarily Gentiles. As you may remember from reading the Acts of the Apostles, the understanding that Jesus’ salvation is for all nations is a post-resurrection understanding (see Acts 10).
Luke also explores a mystery that the early church, as well as every generation since, has pondered: the mystery of suffering, is the cross central to Christianity? Simeon tells Mary and Joseph, “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….” In Luke’s Gospel Mary is the preeminent disciple, the one who says, “May it be done to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38). Now that Disciple is being told that suffering will be part of her discipleship. As those in Luke’s audience read this account they, like we, realize that the same mystery is present in their own lives.
Fr. Michael K. Marsh
They met in the temple, Mary and Joseph, Anna, Simeon, Jesus. How did they get there? What brought them to that place of meeting? What brings us to the temple, the place where God resides?
Mary and Joseph came in obedience to the law, to present Jesus to the Lord and offer a sacrifice according to what was written in the law. Behind the legalities, however, was longing.
Anna never left the temple but worshipped there with fasting and prayer night and day. This is not, however, about a rule of life or asceticism. It is about longing.
Simeon was guided by the Spirit. He was righteous, devout, and looking for the consolation of Israel. But it was more than piety that took him to the temple. It was longing.
Jesus is brought to the temple, not as a passive baby but as the embodiment of his Father’s longing for humanity.
The Feast of the Presentation, sometimes called the Feast of Meeting, is, at its core, a feast of longing. This feast reveals the longing between humanity and divinity. Our deepest longings are to know and be known. That can only ever really happen in relationship to God. This is not about gathering information or learning about God. This kind of knowing is of the heart not the intellect. It is about the union that sets us free, the oneness that allows us to depart in peace, and the relationship that is salvation. For this to happen we must live with and offer the fragility, vulnerability, and joy of an open and longing heart. That heart is the temple of meeting, the place where today we find Mary and Joseph, Anna, Simeon, and Jesus.
Longing is not an absence or emptiness waiting to be filled. Longing is a presence and fullness waiting to be expressed, manifested. Two persons do not long for each other because they are apart. They long for each other because they are in love.
We are sometimes too quick to quench the longing, to satisfy the desire. That never takes us to the temple. It keeps life superficial and us moving from one “fix” to another. Longing, however, if trusted and followed always takes us to the temple, the place of meeting, and we discover that we already hold the baby.
Selections from Breaking Open the Lectionary: Lectionary Readings in Their Biblical Context for RCIA, Faith Sharing Groups, and Lectors—Cycle B, by Margaret Nutting Ralph, Copyright © 2005 by Margaret Nutting Ralph. Paulist Press, Inc., New York/Mahwah, NJ. Reprinted by permission of Paulist Press, Inc. www.paulistpress.com.