“… for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you prepared in the sight of all the peoples ….”
The Jewish meaning of presenting one’s first-born son in the Temple is hinted at in today’s Gospel Reading. Listen to St. Luke the Evangelist’s explanation in today’s Gospel: “When the days were completed for their purification according to the law of Moses, Mary and Joseph took Jesus up to Jerusalem to present Him to the Lord, just as it is written in the law of the Lord… and to offer the sacrifice… in accordance with the dictate in the law of the Lord.”
Three times in this single sentence, St. Luke refers to “the law” of the Jewish people. There are three actions taking place: first, the purification of mother and child before the Lord; second, the presentation of the first-born son to the Lord; and third, the sacrifice of animals to the Lord.
What are Joseph and Mary about as they take place in these Jewish rituals? They know that this child is not the fruit of their marriage. They know that this child was conceived through the Power of the Holy Spirit. This child—they know—has not entered this world in order to overthrow legions of men, armed with sword and spear. Joseph and Mary know that this child was sent by God the Father to overthrow the legions of the devil, armed with pride, envy, lies and malice.
The Law is fulfilled through Jesus Christ. The Law that brought some measure of earthly peace to Jews who followed its prescriptions is fulfilled in Jesus Christ for you and all mankind. Jesus Christ was conceived by the Virgin Mary through the Power of the Holy Spirit, was presented by Joseph and Mary in the Temple, was crucified under Pontius Pilate, suffered, died and was buried, and on the third day rose again from the dead: not to offer you earthly peace, but to offer you life for eternity with the Father in Heaven.
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Joseph and Mary presenting Jesus in the Temple seems like a simple act of worship, but it foreshadows the end of Jesus’ earthly life. Joseph and Mary are handing over the child in their care to God the Father. Their presentation is an act of honesty and humility: they’re admitting that this child is God the Father’s from the beginning, and they’re admitting that for them to be entrusted with this child is an honor they don’t deserve.
That’s where we can see a link between what Joseph and Mary were doing on the day they presented Jesus, and what human parents do on the day they bring their child to the baptismal font. Each and every child is not only a gift from God, but also belongs to God, from the day of his or her conception, all the way to the day of his or her death, unto the eternal life that God wills for each of His children.
So it was with Jesus. Jesus did not belong to Joseph and Mary. Jesus was not entrusted to Joseph and Mary in order for Joseph and Mary to be fulfilled. Jesus was entrusted to Joseph and Mary that they might prepare Him to fulfill the Law some thirty-three years later on Good Friday. Joseph’s and Mary’s vocations were to prepare Jesus’ earthly path to Calvary. We can think here of the Old Testament story of Abraham presenting Isaac, his first-born, for sacrifice on Mount Moriah.
St. Luke the Evangelist in today’s Gospel passage foreshadows for us the share that Mary will have in the Passion of the Christ. Once Mary and Joseph have presented Jesus in the Temple, Simeon explains to Mary that “this child is destined… to be a sign of contradiction—and you yourself a sword will pierce—so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.”
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If you truly believe in the consolation that Jesus offers you, it’s not morbid to imagine yourself at the end of your life, lying on your deathbed. You know, there’s an old saying that counsels: “Always begin with your end in mind.” For us as Christians, our ultimate end is life with the Father in Heaven. But how we prepare for our earthly end—or as we say in the “Hail Mary”, “the hour of our death”—directs each of our earthly days, either towards or away from our ultimate end. So we benefit greatly if we always begin each morning with our end in mind.
During this coming week, consider all the opportunities you have to let go of pre-conceived ideas about what earthly life is meant to be about. Jesus is not the completion of our lives on earth: He completes our life only in Heaven. Jesus is not the answer to all our questions. It’s not our questions that Jesus came into this world to answer. Jesus came into this world to answer for our sins. Jesus didn’t come into this world to fulfill our dreams. He came into this world to teach us how to dream about something worthy of dreams. Jesus teaches you what life is meant for in helping you prepare to say in your old age, and on the day of your death: “Now, Master, you may let your servant go in peace, according to your Word”.