The 5th Sunday in Ordinary Time/ Feast of the Presentation of the Lord– (6th February 2022)
Lectionary Readings: Mal. 3:1-4; Ps. 24:7, 8, 9, 10; Heb. 2:14-18; Lk. 2:22-40
Theme: Who is this child?
Today’s reading from thegospel of Luke is embedded between the narration of Jesus’ circumcision on the eighth day after his birth and the story about the twelve-year-old Jesus at Jerusalem during Passover. Thus, with today’s text Luke ends his childhood narration about Jesus. But what is so important about this child?
Luke is presenting Jesus, Mary and Joseph as a religious, Torah observing Jewish family of their time. For Luke this is obviously a very important fact, since he repeats it four times in today’s reading that the family is doing as it is customary under the law of the Lord (cf. Lk 2:23-24.27.39). One of these rules is called “pidyon ha-ben”, the redemption of the firstborn (cf. Ex 13: 1-2; Num 18:15-16). The Torah states that every firstborn belongs to the God of Israel and is very particular about what should be done with them. While first fruits and firstborn animals are to be offered to the priests, firstborn sons must be redeemed, meaning the parents symbolically “buy” them back from the priest, which is what Mary and Joseph are doing in today’s gospel reading. The other law Luke is referring to concerns the purification of a mother after childbirth. According to the Torah, after giving birth, a mother has to undergo a time of purification after which she must bring an offering to the priest, who then in turn performs certain rites to readmit her into the religious life of the community (cf. Lev. 12:1-8; Etz Hayim, p.651). The Israelites could offer either a lamb, turtledoves or pigeons, depending on their economic status. Since Luke is telling us that Mary and Joseph are offering birds rather than a lamb (cf. Lk 2,24), we may deduce that Jesus was born into a rather poor family. But again: what is so important about this child?
Luke adds two prophetic incidents. First, Simeon – with the infant in his arms – is taking up the prophetic line from Isaiah, praising God that he is being true to his word, bringing to pass, what he has promised: the revelation of the God of Israel not only to the Jewish people but to all the nations of the earth (cf. Is 49,6; Is 46,13) – through the child Jesus. This will be achieved through suffering and will affect his mother as well, thus Simeon tells Mary that a sword will pierce her soul. Then the prophetess Anna joins in and confirms this prophecy, adding the redemption of Jerusalem in particular. Luke ends his narration with a verse, validating all the above by adding, that Jesus grew up and was endowed with God’s favor and wisdom.
Luke’s text then challenges us asking ourselves, who is this child? Is he – like in today’s reading of the prophet Malachi – the servant coming to God’s temple, preparing his way? Is he the king of Glory, for whom ancient doors will open up and our heads may be lifted high, as today’s reading of Psalm 24 suggests? Or do we believe what the author of Hebrews is saying: that this child did not come to help angels but us, sharing everything of our human existence, including birth and death, to finally destroy death? Sometimes the correct answer might be simply to praise God for this child.
For Reflection and Discussion: 1. Who is this child for you? 2. Encourage a child in your environment.
Bibliography: Etz Hayim Thora and Commentary (New York: 1999)
This week’s Sunday Liturgy Commentary was prepared by
Barbara Kauffmann, Germany, Bat Kol Alumna: 2010, 2011, 2012