February 2, 2024
Readings: Malachi 3:1-4; Psalm 24:7-10; Hebrews 2:14 -18; Luke 2: 22-40
Theme: The Lord Whom You Seek Will Come
The liturgy for this feast weaves together beautifully Luke’s image of this moment in the life of the infant Jesus, with Malachi’s interpretation of the missioning of God’s messenger, and the theological perspective of the anonymous Letter to the Hebrews. It is now forty days since Christmas 2023 and, in just another twelve days, we will enter the forty days of Lent 2024, culminating in Holy Week and Easter. Indeed, the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple looks back to Christmas and forward to our Paschal celebration, treasuring insights of both. On this feast in 2022 Pope Francis drew attention to the Spirit who moves us to see God in even the littleness and vulnerability of a baby.
The gospel passage begins in a particular moment in time, set by the Mosaic Law in Leviticus 12:2-8 and Exodus 13:1-2. While the Gospel speaks of the ritual of “their purification,” this is the occasion for the purification of Mary, following childbirth, and the consecration of her firstborn son. Karris states the essential meaning of this moment: “the Lord has come into his temple… as the Most Holy One who was to come” (NJBC, p. 683). The motivation of everyone present echoes throughout the passage: “according to the law of Moses … written in the law of the Lord … stated in the law of the Lord … what was customary under the law … required by the law of the Lord.”
Simeon and Anna become the prime witnesses of this event. Contrary to some portrayals of Simeon as rather elderly and attired in the traditional vestments of the high priest, he is, in fact, introduced as simply “a man in Jerusalem.” The wisdom of this man finds magnificent expression in his “Nunc dimittis” (2:29-32). Tenderly holding the child, he proclaims, “my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples.” We hear Luke’s universalism in this affirmation that the Davidic Messiah is the Savior not just of the chosen people, but of all. Anna, an elderly widow, is identified as a prophet, who never leaves the temple, fasting and praying. She too has an insight into the significance of this child and shares it with all who come, looking for the redemption of Jerusalem. Luke closes his portrait of this moment with quick brush strokes: “they returned to their own town of Nazareth; the child grew, became strong, filled with wisdom; the favor of God was upon him.”
The Malachi and Hebrews passages contribute qualities and tones to Luke’s account, revealing further layers of meaning. Malachi discloses that the messenger whom God is sending, will come as one “in whom you delight”; and yet will be incredibly awesome: who can stand when he appears, purifying, refining, rendering the offerings of Judah and Jerusalem pleasing, as in the days of old? The Hebrews’ text introduces the intimacy of Jesus’ incarnation as one of us, and the atonement that comes to us through his suffering.
For Reflection and Discussion: 1. Think of an experience of consecration/ordination/dedication in your own life. How did it shape your life then, and what does it still mean for you now? 2. What most speaks to you in Luke’s account of the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple?
Bibliography: Brown, Raymond E. et al., The New Jerome Biblical Commentary (Prentice Hall, New Jersey, 1990); Levine, A-J. and Brettler, M.Z., The Jewish Annotated New Testament (Oxford University Press, New York, 2017).
This Commentary was prepared by
Diane Willey, nds, Canada, Bat Kol Alumna 2005, 2006