Feast of the Presentation – February 2

The Presentation of Jesus (and the Purification of Mary) is one of the seven stories (which make up Luke 1 and 2) Luke chose to introduce the adult life of Jesus, and eventually the Acts of the Apostles. Certainly Luke continued to solidify the Holy Family’s fidelity to the Old Testament religion with the long-prescribed ’presentation of the first-born’. Moses had asked for this ritual as a vivid recollection of the saving of the first-born of Israel when, under Pharaoh’s rigid rejection of God’s will, the first-born of Egypt died. Too, Mary spilled various liquids in giving birth the Jesus. These liquids were seen as harmful to the health of anyone who touched them and so the by right the person who issued them should be kept from the rest of her family and friends till she was purified. One can see here how a physical threat was interpreted as a moral obligation: associate with others after you have been cleansed. That Mary’s purification took place in the Temple means that Israel asked a new mother to be certified by a priest that she was purified; with this certification she was welcome back to worship worthily with the community of Israel. But there are two points in this Presentation story which are unique in Luke’s build-up to the adult life of Jesus. First, there is the statement within the prophecy of Simeon that Jesus would be a savior, i.e., a light of revelation to the Gentiles. Nowhere else is reference to Jesus’ relation to the Gentiles clearly mentioned until his final words after his resurrection from the dead. We wait throughout the entire Gospel for Jesus’ salvation of the Gentiles – only to find it carried through in the Acts of the Apostles. Indeed, this brief reference from Simeon is in its own way an introduction to Acts, as it lays down the expectation of the completion of the will of God for salvation of all people. A second point unique to this Presentation story is Simeon’s reference to Jesus’ being the reason for the rise and fall of many, with hearts revealed and a sword to pierce Mary’s heart. Here, Simeon looks not simply to Jesus’ preaching and teaching, but to the division between those who ’rise’ to believe in him and those who ’fall’ in rejecting him – even to some putting Jesus to death. Only in this one of the seven introductory stories do we have mention of suffering and success, even suffering for Mary, but it is a prophecy which will describe part of the entire fabric of the public life of Jesus. Luke was unwilling to proceed to a presentation of the public life of Jesus (and of Acts) without these elements being remembered, as introduction to be carried with the reader as he enters the adult life of Jesus and the life of the witnessing Church. John Kilgallen, SJ
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