The Feast of the Presentation of the Lord

The Feast of the Presentation of the Lord, celebrated on February 2, 2009, comes at just the right time this year, a time when we ought even more to reflect on the Jewishness of Jesus. Fr. James Martin noted in the "In All Things" blog yesterday a document posted on the website of the Society of St. Pius X, "The Mystery of the Jews," which contains numerous anti-Semitic canards, ranging from the charge of "deicide" against the Jews, to the claims that the desire of the Jews is to enslave Christians, that the Jewish people are a "mystery of iniquity,"and that Jews must not live together with Christians. The Presentation of Jesus at the Temple brings us directly into the Jewish Law, the Torah, which was given by God for his people Israel (Luke 2:22-40). Mary brought Jesus to the Temple because the Law required that after a period of days a woman be purified after childbirth (Leviticus 5:11; 12:6-8). Luke records that Mary and Joseph brought Jesus to the Temple to fulfill this Law. In addition, Luke also notes that according to Exodus 13:2, the firstborn was to be consecrated to God. Mary and Joseph fulfilled this Law also (2:22-24). There are sometimes claims made by critics of modern Biblical studies that nothing much of consequence has been accomplished by new techniques, methods and questions, except for the banishment of the theological truth of the Scriptures. Whatever the case against poor practitioners of the exegetical arts, or those who see the Scriptures as emerging from the human hand alone, and cases can be made against both of them, critics often forget how much has been gained by historical critical study of the Bible. Foremost in my mind has been the emergence, or re-emergence, of Jesus’ Judaism, not simply in noting how he or his family fulfilled certain laws, rites and practices of the Torah, but in the depth of Jesus’ teaching, preaching, and in his very mission. Jesus cannot be understood apart from Judaism. Jesus was not only born as a part of the Jewish people, according to God’s plan, but was formed as a Jewish person and came to fulfill the promises and hopes recorded in the Jewish scriptures. Luke records that Simeon, upon seeing Jesus, took him in his arms and proclaimed:"my eyes have seen your salvation, which you prepared in the sight of all the peoples: a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and glory for your people Israel" (2:31-32). Jesus’ arrival, his incarnation, was for all peoples: revelation for the gentiles, but also glory for Israel. Anna the prophet, Luke says, also saw Jesus and "coming forward at that very time, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were awaiting the redemption of Jerusalem" (2:38). We must remember that both Simeon and Anna, like Jesus and his family, like all of Jesus’ apostles were Jews and remained Jews. Anna and Simeon, guided by the Holy Spirit, spoke to those at the Temple of who Jesus was. Not all of Jesus’ compatriots responded to his call during his earthly ministry - though many did - and not all of those who hear Jesus’ message today respond, whether Jewish or not, but Jesus is recorded as stating in Matthew 10:5-6 that his apostles go nowhere amongst the Gentiles or Samaritans, but go only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. The call was to the Jew first and then to the Gentile. The mystery of Jesus’ incarnation, the salvation he offers to all human beings, and God’s providential plan are not based upon his rejection by some of his countrymen. As Nostra Aetate states, "Christ underwent His passion and death freely, because of the sins of men and out of infinite love, in order that all may reach salvation. It is, therefore, the burden of the Church’s preaching to proclaim the cross of Christ as the sign of God’s all-embracing love and as the fountain from which every grace flows" (4) And here is another "Presentation" of Jesus that we must keep in mind at all times: how we present Jesus to the world. Apart from Jesus’ divinity and authority, a couple of characteristics that mark him in his ministry are humility and love. Jesus always presented himself to those of wealth and power, to those of poverty and weakness in the same manner: with genuine humility and love for all. Those who claim to follow Jesus must always seek this "presentation" of Jesus. We must present him to the world with the same humility and love that he himself lived. Jesus is not a cause for triumphalism or arrogance, but thankfulness that he has reached out to us with his infinite love, mercy and grace. Jesus himself learned of this humility and love in the context of Judaism, in the context of fulfilling the laws, and in the context of the Temple. Luke concludes: "when they had fulfilled all the prescriptions of the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth.The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him" (2:39-40). When next we see Jesus in the Gospel of Luke, he is in the Temple as a 12 year old boy. What was he doing there? He was in his Father’s house "listening to them and asking them questions" (2:46). Listening to who? Teachers of the Torah. We are not told whether he disagreed with them, or agreed with them, but we know he was engaged in a genuine dialogue, based on love and respect. John W. Martens
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