Presentation of the Lord – Readings


Presentation of the Lord – Commentary on Malachi 3:1-4; Ps 23; Hebrews 2:14-18; Luke 2:22-40

Today's Gospel says, "They took [Jesus] 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'." The actual ritual is not described but we are introduced to two elderly people who were in the Temple at the time.  The first of these was a devout man called Simeon.   He had been told that he would not die until he had first laid eyes on the promised Messiah.  Guided by the Spirit he came into the Temple and recognized in Mary's child the long-awaited Messiah.   He makes a prayer of thanksgiving to God for answering his prayer "for my eyes have seen your salvation".  And what he has seen is "a light for revelation to the Gentiles and glory for your people Israel".   Jesus, the Incarnate Word of God, is a divine revelation to the non-Jews and the glory of God's own people from whom he came.  Mary and Joseph are quite amazed at the words being spoken.  There is a lot they still do not know about their Son. But Simeon then had some ominous words for the Mother: "This child is destined for the fall and the 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."   This is the paradox of Jesus.  He comes as Saviour bringing life for the whole world and yet there will be people who will reject his message of truth and life.  His own people will be deeply divided over him.  This will be a source of deep pain for the Mother, something she will not realize fully until she sees him die in agony before her eyes.  Simeon's words must have been very puzzling and even alarming to Mary and Joseph. The second person to greet the parents and their Child was another deeply religious person.  She was Anna, whose husband had died after only 7 years of marriage and who had now been a widow for more than 60 years.  She spent all her time in the Temple in prayer and fasting.  On seeing the Child, she gave thanks to God and spoke about him to everyone she met.  As mentioned, when this feast was called the Purification of Our Lady there was for a long time a custom in the Church for mothers to go through a purification ceremony after giving birth.  Such a rite is now seen as inappropriate but the revised Rituale Romanum (Roman Ritual) still provides for the blessing of women both before and after birth.  The latter is only in cases where the mother could not be present at the baptism of her child.  In general, it would seem highly appropriate for a special blessing to be given to mothers on this day. The feast is now called the Presentation of Our Lord and the emphasis is more on Jesus than on his Mother.  The blessing and the procession of candles as well as the Scripture readings focus on Jesus who is the "Light of the World". The First Reading is from the prophet Malachi.  It consists of a prophecy which can be applied to the Messiah and hence to Jesus.  The opening sentence reminds one of John the Baptist: "I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me".  But then the rest of the sentence foreshadows today's feast: "Suddenly there come to the temple the Lord whom you seek and the messenger of the covenant whom you desire.  Yes, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts."  A clear reference to Jesus, as the Word of God and the one who will inaugurate the New Covenant between God and his people. The prophecy goes on to warn that the coming Messiah will be a real challenge, he will be "like the refiner's fire".  He will refine the sons of Levi, "refining them like gold or silver, that they may offer due sacrifice to the Lord".  For those who welcome his message and his call, Jesus is good news but for those who will reject his call it will mean death and the end of life.  The Second Reading is from the Letter to Hebrews. It speaks of the meaning of God's Son coming to live among us as one of us, which, of course, is the theme of today's feast.   For the Son of God came to share our flesh and blood and all that goes with it.  It was in this way that he would "destroy the one who has power of death, that is, the devil".  On the contrary, he has come to liberate "those who through fear of death had been subject to slavery all their life". In order to do this, the Son "had had to become like his brothers in every way, that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest before God to expiate the sins of the people".  And, on the cross, Jesus will be both Priest and Victim, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.  As the reading concludes, "because he himself was tested through what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested".  All of this is foreshadowed in the warnings that Simeon gives to Mary about the sword of sorrow which will pierce her heart.

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