When solemnities, like the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple, fall on a Sunday during Ordinary Time, they take precedence over that Sunday. The significance of this feast is brought out in the first reading which speaks of the Lord coming to occupy his Temple. In the Gospel, God comes to his Temple in the form of the Infant Jesus. In the second reading, Jesus is presented as the high priest who removes the sins of his people.
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Sins of the priests
Like many of his colleagues, the prophet Malachi has the difficult task of speaking an unwelcome message to the leaders and people of his time. In this post-exilic community, the liturgical and communal life of the people has deteriorated to such an extent that the prophet has to call to task the laxity of the clergy.
In today’s reading, the prophet speaks about a “messenger” who will come to prepare a way for the Lord, who will in turn cleanse his Temple of sinful practices so that worthy worship can once again be offered. Christians, in retrospect, saw the messenger as John the Baptist who prepared the way for Jesus and who in time would cleanse the Temple of beggars and sellers.
He will sit refining and purifying silver, and he will purify the sons of Levi, refining them like gold or like silver that they may offer due sacrifice to the LORD. — MAL 3:3 (NAB)
PS 24: 7, 8, 9, 10
Who is this king of glory? It is the Lord!
This is a psalm of praise to the King of Glory.
David composed this psalm after buying the Temple Mount, intending for it to be sung at the dedication of the Temple by his son, Solomon. In verses 7 and 9, he instructs the gates of the Temple to open to receive God’s glory at that time. The Talmud notes that when Solomon came to dedicate the Temple and bring in the Ark of the Covenant, the gates refused to open. They acceded only after Solomon prayed for them to open in the merit of his father, David.
“One thing I ask of the LORD; this I seek: To dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, that I may gaze on the loveliness of the LORD and contemplate his temple.” — Ps 40:8-9 (NAB)
Jesus as faithful high priest
As a result of the “Fall,” all human beings came under the power of Satan, especially when they sinned. They also lived in the shadow of “fear of death.” When Jesus came, he totally shared our human condition even to the point of death. But when God raised Jesus up, he broke the power of death and the hold that Satan had on humanity. Through his saving work, Jesus becomes a merciful and faithful high priest before God. Jesus’ faithfulness should be a model to all who may be tempted to despair in a time of persecution.
He had to become like his brothers and sisters in every way, that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest before God to expiate the sins of the people.— Heb 2:17 (NAB)
The three religious rites related to the birth of Jesus
Because Mary and Joseph are devout Jews, they are obedient to the laws of their religious tradition. So this holy family makes the journey to the Temple to fulfill three different religious rites all related to the birth of Jesus: purification, redemption and presentation.
In biblical religions, contact with blood made a person unclean and ineligible to enter the Temple for worship. Bringing to the Temple a “sin offering”—a pair of turtle doves or two young pigeons (the offering for a poor couple)—cleanses Mary and restores her to the worshiping community.
According to Ex 13:1-2, every male child belongs to God and must be “brought back” (redeemed); a male child is redeemed at the end of one month for five sanctuary shekels (Nm 18:16). Luke mentions no payment for Jesus for he already belongs to God. Luke downplays the redemption ritual by saying that the purpose of the visit to Jerusalem is to present Jesus to the Lord as it is written in the law of the Lord (2:22-23).
Technically, there is neither any biblical law nor any known custom pertaining to the presentation of a child in the Temple. Luke is using this language to allude to the story of Hannah presenting her child Samuel to Eli for service at the Sanctuary (1Sam 1:22-24). Luke’s purpose is to show that the Holy Family is obedient to the law of the Lord. This obedience to God in all things will characterize Jesus’ life and bring his mission to completion on the Cross.
This story also signals Jesus’ single-minded devotion to his Father and how that must transcend even his devotion to his earthly parents.Finally, the story features two very devout Jews who have waited all their lives for this moment. Simeon means “God has heard.” He speaks an ominous word to Mary about “a sword that will pierce her heart”-– an obvious reference to the sufferings Mary will endure because she is the mother of Jesus. A prophetess, Anna,whose name means “grace or favor,” is presented as the ideal Jewess. Being widowed, childless and old, she is totally dependent on God’s mercy and perfectly equipped to recognize it when it appears. She heralds the Child as the One who will redeem Jerusalem.
He said to them, “Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.” At once they left their nets and followed him. — Mt 4:19-20 (NAB)
1. “Lo! I am sending you as a messenger to prepare the way before you.” How are you or how can you be a messenger of the Lord?
2. Who are the Anna’s and Simeon’s in your life and/or parish? What role do they play?
3. In the Gospel, Simeon says to Mary that because of her Child, her heart will be pierced with sorrow. What actions of children can pierce the heart of a parent? Do you have a personal experience you can share?
4. Name one thing today’s Gospel says to us that we disciples of Jesus need to heed and act on.
Call to Action
Write a note of thanks to one of the Anna’s and Simeon’s in your life, thanking them for their ministry of care.
God of glory on this day of presentation, we present ourselves to you. Purify us to become more holy. We see in others what beauty a lifetime of grace can create. We want to be like that. Lead us in your everlasting way. Amen.