Presentation of the Lord to the Temple: A, B, C
Ml 3:1-4; Heb 2:14-18; Lk 2:22-40
Introduction: This is a homily/Scripture reflection in a book, titled: ‘Every Week God Speaks We Respond’, Cycle A, intended to be published in the future by Reverend John Tran Binh Trong.
It was published in Vietnamese in the US 2008 and republished in Viet Nam 2011. To keep the author’s writing style, this homily has not been edited and may not be by a hired hand. However, if readers would like to point out mistake(s) in spelling and grammar and/or to suggest English phrases and expressions, it would be greatly appreciated by the author, whose English is not his mother tongue and who did not live in the US until his adulthood. Passive sentences are used intentionally in this context as to avoid using the first personal pronoun ‘I’ when applicable. That might be associated with any idea of egotism, in accord with the French saying, known as: ‘Le moi est haissable’ (The ego is detestable).
According to the Law of Moses, every first-born male child had to be presented to the Lord in the temple. That is why the parents of the child Jesus brought the infant Jesus to the Temple to be dedicated.
The book of Exodus teaches that the first born son belongs to God because of being delivered from the slaughter of the born sons in Egypt in the Passover on the way to the promised land (Ex 13:2, 15).
The book of Numbers determined the ransom for a boy is five silver shekels (Nm 18:16).
According to the book of Levi, the mother has to make her ritual of purification 40 days after she has given birth to a boy (Lev 12:1-8). The mother had to offer a yearling lamb for a holocaust and a pigeon for a sin offering. However, Joseph and Mary offered only two young pigeons as a sacrifice to God because they were poor.
In this case, Saint Luke combined the mother’s purification and the presentation of the son together. In fact, the offering of two young pigeons was for the mother’s purification, not for the son’s presentation as misunderstood by many. How much did Mary and Joseph offer for their son’s presentation? The Gospel did not say, but might be implied in these words: When the pair had fulfilled all the prescriptions of the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee and their own town of Nazareth (Lk 2:39).In appearance, there was nothing special about the parents of Jesus.
Saint Joseph was only a village carpenter, like other carpenters in town. Mary was a regular housekeeper like many housekeepers in the area. However, scripture tells Simeon and Anna were filled with joy and gratitude on this occasion. Enlightened by the Holy Spirit, they both recognized the identity of the Child Jesus. Simeon had waited all his life for this moment.
Seeing the Messiah of God, his first reaction was to give thanks to God. Then he declared he would be ready to depart from this life when he uttered the gospel canticle (Nunc dimittis: Lk 2:29-32) since he had seen with his own eyes the Messiah of God, not only for Israel, but also for the whole world as well. Simeon blessed the child Jesus and his mother, then spoke prophetically: This child is destined to be the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed (Lk 2:34).
According to the prophet Malachi's prophecy in today's first Reading the Lord whom people seek, will come to the temple (Mal 3: 1), Simeon sees the coming of the Infant Jesus to the Temple as the fulfillment of this prophecy. How was Simeon able to recognize the Child Jesus as the Savior? How he was able to distinguish what was divine and what was human? Today's Gospel tells us: Simeon was righteous and devout, awaiting the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him (Lk 2:25).
These two virtues in Simeon helped him recognize the child Jesus as the Savior. His mind and his look were not blocked by obstacles that would prevent him from recognizing the divinity of Christ. This should help us understand one of the eight Beatitudes: Blessed are the single for they shall see God (Mt 5:8).
Then Anna took turn to utter her voice of praise for the child Jesus. How was she able to recognize the divine mission of the Child Jesus? Do not say because she was a prophetess. Being a prophetess was special, since she was the only one female prophet in the whole history of the Old Testament. However being a female prophet was no guarantee that she would know the identity of Jesus' divine mission. Today's Gospel tells us: She was constantly in the temple worshipping day and night in fasting and prayer (Lk 2:37).
She was eighty-four years old, no longer in a state of being physically fit and mentally alert. Yet fasting and prayer helped her become alert spiritually, alert to the voice of God and the word of God, alert to his presence.
The liturgy of the word today teaches us two lessons. We can learn a lesson from Mary and Joseph about the virtue of obedience and sacrifice. Mary and Joseph obeyed the will of God according to the Law of Moses by bringing the child Jesus to the Temple to be dedicated. They also obeyed the Law of Moses by offering the sacrifice according to the prescriptions of the law of the Lord (Lk 2:39).
Our sacrificial offering to God must help transform our lives and find the meaning of life and make us feel the inner joy in our practice of faith. According to a chemical principle, food comes to the stomach without being digested, our stomach would be floating. A psychological and spiritual principle suggests if we only receive without giving away, our heart would be stagnant.
A second lesson we can learn from Simeon and Anna is to learn how to be able to recognize God's presence and his voice and his will in our lives. How can we recognize the footprints of God and his presence, if our minds and hearts are full of obstacles?
A prayer for contemplation of God’s countenance:
Oh, Lord our God!
You are the one we are longing for.
Teach me how to obey and sacrifice
Like Mary and Joseph.
Give me an upright spirit and a devout heart
Along with zeal for the work of your house
Like Simeon and Anna
So that I may recognize the footprints and your presence
in my life and in the universe. Amen.
John Tran Binh Trong