Models of Simplicity, Obedience
by Rev. Jack Peterson
Reprinted with permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"
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Luke writes to explain that
Christ came to save everyone.
When the days were completed for their purification according to the law of Moses, they took him 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, and to offer the sacrifice of a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.
Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon. This man was righteous and devout, awaiting the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit the he should not see death before he had seen the Christ of the Lord. He came in the Spirit into the temple, and when the parents brought in the child Jesus to perform the custom of the law in regard to him, he took him into his arms and blessed God, saying: "Now, Master, you may let your servant go in peace, according to your word, for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in sight of all the peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and glory for your people Israel."
The child's father and mother were amazed at what was said about him; and Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, "Behold, this child is destined for the fall and 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." There was also a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was advanced in years, having lived seven years with her husband after her marriage, and then as a widow until she was eighty7-four. She never left the temple, but worshiped night and day with fasting and prayer. And coming forward at that very time, she gave thanks to God spoke about the child to all who were awaiti9ng the redemption of Jerusalem.
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.
On the feast of the Presentation, a pair of grateful hearts ventures up to the temple in Jerusalem. Mary and Joseph both responded to God’s grace and offered their radical “yes” to the will of the Father. God proceeded to bless them with the unfathomable grace of a Son who is both Messiah and Lord. They come to the temple this day with deeply grateful hearts offering their Gift back to God. They promise not to covet this Gift but to give Him wholly and completely to the Father for the great task assigned Him from the beginning of time — the salvation of world.
God, in turn, pours out new blessings upon the humble couple from Nazareth. Mary and Joseph come not only with grateful hearts, but obedient ones as well. God loves to bless obedient hearts. They show loving obedience to God by traveling to Jerusalem and performing two ancient Jewish traditions surrounding the birth of a male child. First, the mother must abstain from all ritual practices and then on the 40th day offer a twofold sacrifice: a lamb as a holocaust and a turtledove or pigeon as a sin offering. Second, harkening back to the exodus from Egypt, a first-born son belongs to God and must be ransomed by the parents who make an offering to a Jewish priest.
Mary and Joseph arrive in the temple to make these offerings to the Lord, and He blesses them most richly. Simeon and Anna serve as a great encouragement to Mary and Joseph because they confirm the identity of Jesus in the temple and the significance of the demanding journey upon which these young parents have recently embarked. Mary and Joseph soak up a brief moment of encouragement along the way.
God chooses once again the poor and lowly to carry out His plan. God calls a humble carpenter and a lowly handmaid to be the parents of His only begotten Son. The ancient Jewish tradition described above allows a poor family to substitute a turtledove or a pigeon for the prescribed lamb. St. Luke recounts that Mary and Joseph offered the sacrifice of a pair of birds in accordance with the dictate in the law of the Lord, thus confirming that the Holy Family was of simple means. God the Father chose the way of poverty for His Son. Blessed are the poor in spirit, theirs is the kingdom of God.
Furthermore, we see today that the shadow of the cross hangs over Jesus’ life from the very start. Simeon, the “righteous and devout” one, knows that Jesus’ life and ministry will be rejected by many and prophetically states that He will be “a sign that will be contradicted.” Simeon also states that a sword will pierce Mary’s heart referring to the many sorrows she will embrace as she participates in a unique way in her Son’s saving work, including the soldier’s lance that opens His side on the cross. Jesus’ whole life was directed to the cross. So were the lives of Mary and Joseph.
The parents of Jesus teach us a great deal in one day about what it means to be a faithful child of God. Mary and Joseph unassumingly model for us that we need to be profoundly grateful to God, obedient to His divine will, poor in spirit, and ready to carry our cross for the sake of their Son, Jesus.
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