The Holy Family 2020

My Dear People,

Mary and Joseph are faithful observers of the law. Therefore, their child is circumcised, like John (1:59),when eight days were completed (Gen 17:12; Lev. 12:3). He is named Jesus in obedience to the words of the angel (Luke 1:31). 

In Leviticus, the passage regarding circumcision continues by specifying “thirty-three days more” for the mother, “till the days of her purification are fulfilled” (Lev 12:4). During this period following childbirth, she was considered ritually unclean and could not enter the temple. When forty days were completed, Mary and Joseph thus go up to the Jerusalem temple for their purification. The journey also allows them to fulfill another Jewish observance: to present Jesus the firstborn to the Lord. In Luke emphasis falls in the middle on Jesus’ presentation. In accord with Scripture: “Every male that opens the womb shall be consecrated to the Lord” (see Exodus13:2, 12-15; Num. 18:15). Scripture likewise outlines the sacrifices to be offered for the purification: “a pair of turtledoves and two young pigeons” ( see Lev. 22:8). (This detail reveals their poverty; the regular offering, for those who could afford it, was a lamb and one pigeon or turtledove (Lev. 12:6)). The combination of poverty and pious observance of the law (Luke 2:22-24,27,39) highlights how Mary and Joseph are among the righteous anawim.

On a larger scale, Luke’s reference to days being “completed” (see 2:6) shows that God’s plan of salvation as announced in Scripture is being fulfilled. Jesus the Lord (2:11) is brought to the temple as Malachi had prophesized: “The lord whom you seek will come suddenly to his temple” (Mal 3:1). Also fulfilled are the seventy weeks prophesized by Gabriel (Dan 9:24), from Gabriel’s appearance to Zechariah in the temple until Jesus’ arrival in the temple.

In God’s plan, the event also includes the meeting with Simeon (2:25-35) and Anna (vv. 36-38). Simeon, who hears the name of one of Jacob’s sons (Gen. 29:33), is described as righteous, like Zechariah and Elizabeth (Luke 1:6), and devout (see Acts 2:5;  8:2; 22:12). Moreover, he is waiting for the consolation of Israel—that is, the fulfillment of prophecies such as those in Isaiah: “ ‘Console my people, console them,’ says the Lord”. (Isa. 40:1).  The Holy Spirit is also upon him, as earlier with Mary (Luke 1:35). The Spirit indeed illuminates his thoughts, revealing the promise that he should not see death before seeing the Messiah, who is Jesus (2:11). The Spirit also guides Simeon’s actions, in spirit to go to the temple at the right time. He obeys the Spirit’s promptings, like Mary and Joseph, who are obedient to the law. One might say that the law is fulfilled in them because they walk according to the Spirit (see Rom 8:4).

Meanwhile, Joseph and Mary bring in the child Jesus to perform the custom of the law in regard to him, presumably to pay the “redemption price” of “five shekels” (Num 18:16) for the firstborn (see Exodus 13:13, 15). Luke does not explicitly mention it, as his interest is more on the redemption to be wrought by Jesus himself (Luke 2:38).

Simeon took or “received” Jesus into his arms and, as Zechariah had done (1:64), blessed God.  His canticle, the Nunc Dimittis, addresses God directly in the second person as Master, as Abraham did (Gen. 15:2).

Now is the time of fulfillment, and there is an emphasis on immediacy already seen in the angelic announcement “Today. . . a savior has been born for you” (Luke 2:11) [emphasis added]. The time of waiting is over. Simeon is God’s servant,  like Mary the “handmaid” 1:38,48). Like Mary, he accepts God’s plan for his life, revealed according to God’s word (see 1:38). He may now go—that is, die—since God’s promise to him has been fulfilled. Similarly, Abraham wondered if he would go (i.e. die), but then God made a promise to him (Gen 15:2). The angels had sung of “peace to those on whom his favor rests” (Luke 2:14), and such a person is Simeon, who can now die in peace. The church prays the words of Nunc Dimittis in Night Prayer (Compline) every night, so that like Simeon, the faithful may end their days and their lives in God’s peace.

Yours in Christ.

Fr. Vincent Clemente


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