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Jim McDermottFebruary 01, 2023
RowVaughn Wells, mother of Tyre Nichols, a young Black man who was killed during a traffic stop by Memphis police officers, pauses as she speaks during a news conference at Mt. Olive Cathedral CME Church in Memphis, Tenn., Jan. 27, 2023. (OSV News photo/Alyssa Pointer, Reuters)

A Reflection for the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord

Find today’s readings here.

It’s hard to celebrate the Presentation of the Lord right now. Every time I sit with the image of Mary and Joseph going to the Temple to proudly present their amazing baby boy to God, I think of RowVaughn Wells. Twenty-nine years ago she presented her amazing baby boy to her family and friends and the Lord. And no doubt she felt that same combination of awe and pride (and a little terror) that Joseph and Mary felt at being in the presence of this miracle, their child.

Maybe she or her husband Rodney even had relatives and strangers predicting the future for her son, some stranger in the produce aisle who took one look at him and told her he was the next Barack Obama or Jean-Michel Basquiat. The moment of presentation is a moment of infinite possibility.

But one possibility that none would have wished for was that 29 years later Ms. Wells’ son, Tyre Nichols, would die after being horrifically beaten by Memphis police officers.

The parents of Taddarius Bean didn’t imagine that their son would grow up to help murder a man, either. Nor did the parents of Demetrius Haley, Emmitt Martin III, Desmond Mills Jr. or Dustin Smith. But here they all are today, their past moments of joyful presentation like ash in their mouths now. “You duped me, O Lord, and I let myself be duped,” cried the prophet Jeremiah. And today so many others wail it with them.

The Scriptures give us no glimpse into Mary’s grief after the crucifixion of her son. Perhaps the Gospel writers, all of them likely men, didn’t think it was important to the story. My own hunch is that they realized it was just too much to ask readers to handle, that it would make them incapable of accepting the joy of the resurrection soon to come. To sit with this woman who we had witnessed completely entrust herself to God now confronted with what seems like the final result of that trust—to hear her questions, to watch her weeping, or perhaps shrieking—there would be no easy way forward from that dark place.

But as a result, though she is our entrance into the story of Jesus in two of the Gospels and though she is Jesus’ mother, the woman who carried him in her womb for nine months and then loved him all his life, at her moment of loss the writers erase her from the text, and Jesus’ stepfather Joseph as well. (Though some believe that Joseph had already passed away by the time Jesus died, there is nothing in the Scriptures to prove this is true.)

At the heart of the story of the Presentation is an act of tremendous courage. Mary and Joseph entrust their son to God’s hands, and with him their own happiness. What they are presenting is not simply their boy but their own vulnerable hearts. Every parent does just the same. Tyre Nichols himself did, too, just four years ago, at the birth of his son.

And just as we celebrate in that moment with them, so today we grieve with them as well.

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