THE PRESENTATION OF THE LORD
(A biblical refection on THE FEAST OF THE PRESENTATION OF THE LORD, Sunday, 2 February 2020)
Gospel Reading: Luke 2:22-40
First Reading: Malachi 3:1-4 or Hebrews 2:14-18; Psalms: Psalm 24:7-10
The Scripture Text
And when the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, they brought Him up to Jerusalem to present Him to the Lord (as is is written in the law of the Lord, “Every male that opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord”) and to offer a sacrifice according to what is said in the law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons.” Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, looking for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he should not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. And inspired by the Spirit he came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for Him according to the custom of the law, he took him up in his arms and blessed God and said, “Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace, according to Thy word; for mine eyes have seen Thy salvation which Thou hast prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to Thy people Israel.”
And His father and His mother marveled at what was said about Him; and Simeon blessed them and said to Mary His mother, “Behold, this child is set for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is spoken against (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), that thoughts out of many hearts may be revealed.”
And there was a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher; she was of a great age, having lived with her husband seven years from her virginity, and as a widow till she was eighty-four. She did not depart from the temple, worshipping with fasting, and prayer night and day. And coming up at that very hour she gave thanks to God, and spoke of Him to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.
And when they had performed everything according to the law of the Lord, they returned into Galilee, to their own city, Nazareth. And the child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon Him. (Luke 2:22-40 RSV)
Today’s Gospel talks about two important Jewish religious practices – the purification of a woman after childbirth and the presentation of a male baby in the Temple. Because these two Jewish rituals play an important role in today’s Gospel, we must take a closer look at each of them.
The Purification: The ancient Jewish people believed God was the source of life, using blood as a vehicle to communicate that life to human beings. Therefore, a person who came in contact with blood came in contact with God’s creative power. Since this experience of God set the person apart from the ordinary world, this individual had to undergo a purification before returning to everyday life. This purification, usually a ritual bath, restored the person to “normalcy” before offering sacrifices to God or taking part in religious services.
Jewish women, therefore, underwent a ritual bath after each monthly period. After childbirth, the woman also offered a year-old lamb and a pair of pigeons or turtledoves at her purification. However, if the woman was poor, she offered only the birds. This explains Mary’s offering in today’s Gospel.
The Presentation: When the Jews were slaves in Egypt, God appeared to Moses and told him to lead His people to freedom. When the pharaoh refused to let the Jews go, God punished the Egyptian people with ten plagues, the last being the death of the first born Egyptian male in each family. Because God spared the Jews from this catastrophe, they believed their first born sons belonged to God (Exodus 13:11-16) and “ransomed” these sons back with an offering of five shekels (coins). In today’s Gospel, Joseph and Mary fulfil this Jewish law when they visit the Temple for Mary’s purification.
Today’s Gospel concludes with Joseph and Mary returning with Jesus to Nazareth in Galilee. Galilee, a region within the land of Palestine where most of Jesus’ ministry took place, was a relatively small area, only about forty-five mile long from north to south.
(Adapted from Jerome J. Sabatowich, Cycling Through the Gospels – Gospel Commentaries for Cycles A, B, and C, pages 344-345.)
Short Prayer: Almighty, ever-living God, on this day Your Only-begotten Son was presented in the temple, in flesh and blood like ours. Purify us in mind and heart that we may meet You in Your glory. We pray this in the most precious name of our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, God for ever and ever. Amen.
Jakarta, 1 February 2020
A Christian Pilgrim