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Tuesday, February 2, 2010

The Presentation of the Lord at the Temple

Now , Master, you may let your servant go in peace, according to your word, for my eyes have seen your salvation.” (Luke 2:29-30) Simeon at the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple

The Presentation of the Lord
February 2

Forty days after the birth of Jesus, Joseph and Mary, a devout Jewish family traveled to Jerusalem to fulfill two instructions of the Law of Moses; the purification of the mother prescribed in Leviticus 12:1-8, and the buying back of the first born, from Exodus 13:2, 12-13.

According to the Law of Moses from the Old Testament a Jewish mother after childbirth was considered to be unclean for a certain time. At the expiration of this time, the mother was obliged to go to the temple and undergo the rite of purification. Although this law would not have applied to Mary because of her virginity, she took part in the purification out of obedience, knowing that the mystery of her perpetual virginity was not recognized outside the Holy Family.

In recognition of Passover when God freed the Israelites from slavery in Egypt the Law required every first-born male to be consecrated to God. Out of obedience, Joseph and Mary offered their first and only born son Jesus to God. At the same time the parents were required to offer a sacrifice depending upon their means. Joseph and Mary offered the poor offering of two turtle-doves, one in thanksgiving for a happy delivery and the second as a sin offering or buying back of their first born.

There are three other elements notable to the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple. First, Simeon a “righteous and devout” man awaited the coming of the Messiah to the Jews. (Luke 2:25) He was told by the Holy Spirit “that he should not see death before he had seen the Messiah of the Lord.” (Luke 2:26) For Israel, the Temple of Jerusalem represented the place of the fulfillment of this promise; many wondered when God would send the Messiah and permit Him to enter the Temple.

On the day of the Presentation, the Messiah did enter the Temple, though it would be known by only a few. Mary placed Jesus into the arms of Simeon who 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 people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and glory for your people Israel.” (Luke 2:29-31)

The second is that of sacrifice. The Temple in Jerusalem was a place where blood sacrifices of animals were made by the Jewish Priests, in thanksgiving and for atonement of sin. In thirty three years Jesus would offer Himself as a blood sacrifice, “Not that he might offer himself repeatedly, as the high priest enters each year into the sanctuary with blood that is not his own, ” (Hebrews 9:23) but that He would offer Himself, the Lamb to the Father as the one perfect and eternal sacrifice.

The third element is prophecy, that which is expressed by Simeon and the prophetess Anna. Both shared an expectation of the coming of the Messiah, and spent hours in prayer and fasting at the Temple. Upon seeing the baby Jesus in His mother’s arms, Simeon said, “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).” (Luke 34-35) If I could offer a paraphrase, Simeon was telling Mary that her child would turn the world upside down, His teachings would be opposed by many and that she too would suffer greatly with her son.

Mary, a student of the Old Testament and the prophecy of Isaiah knew that the Messiah would suffer greatly, be disfigured, “so marred was his look beyond that of man.” (Isaiah 52:14) “Pierced for our offenses, crushed for our sins…by his stripes we were healed….Though he was harshly treated, he submitted…like a lamb led to the slaughter.” (Isaiah 53:5-7) Simeon’s prophecy spoken barely 40 days after Jesus’ birth confirmed that of Isaiah’s “Suffering Servant” and foreshadowed the crucifixion where this prophecy is ultimately fulfilled.

After Jesus “handed over the spirit,” (John 19: 30) a soldier “thrust his lance into his side.” (John 19:34) At the physical crucifixion of Jesus, Mary’s heart was spiritually pierced, (as any parent's would be witnessing their child suffer) and she was spiritually crucified as Simeon had foretold. But in a sense this prophecy of being “a sign of contradiction” is still experienced by every Christian to this day.

 At baptism we are consecrated to God, set aside for "a holy purpose" to make every moment of our life an act of worship while striving to follow His will. Each one of us is given a vocation by God, our Maker, and the Author of our Life. We are given the grace of God and the guidance of the Holy Spirit to stand for the truth even when it is hard or unpopular. We are called to imitate Jesus in our life and sometimes this puts us, as Simeon said, in “contradiction” to the world.
A Holy Purpose
Apostleship of Prayer
Fr. James Kubicki S.J.

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Presentation of Christ in the Temple - Giotto di Bondone
Presentation of Christ in the Temple - Fra Angelico
Presentation of Christ in the Temple - Guercino
Presentation of Christ in the Temple - Vittore Carpaccio

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