When we celebrated the feast of the Epiphany (“manifestation”), we were celebrating the fact that Jesus manifested himself to the Gentiles, as represented by the Magi. And on the feast of the Presentation, we celebtrate the fact that Jesus manifested himself to the Jews. (Luke 2:22-40)
How was this done? Luke the evangelist not only appears to have appropriated Old Testament references, but also seems to have presented a theological framework for Jesus’ ministry. Old Testament background is seen not only in the following of the Mosaic Law in the Presentation itself, but also references to the prophet Isaiah (in Simeon’s Nunc Dimittis prayer) and the likely references to Samuel’s call in the Temple (I Samuel 1-2).
A partial theological framework for Jesus’ ministry can be seen in this Gospel reading. The framework would include: The name of Jesus; Obedience to the Law; Simeon; Anna.
First, the name Jesus. The name itself means “savior.” The name was given by the angel Gabriel to Mary at the Annunciation, therefore we can assume that the principal task of the child was the “save” the world. Another point to keep in mind is that during Advent (time of preparation for the coming of Jesus), a frequently used word was “Immanuel” (God with us), reminding us of the Incarnation–Jesus was Immanuel.
Second, Obedience to the Law. For Jesus, the Law was meant to be of service to people. The Law was a guide not an end in itself. This is seen especially in cultural ritual. Jesus had no trouble keeping the Law on this score. But when the Law became absolutized, and people had to suffer for it, Jesus challenged the situation. We see the famous example of Jesus breaking the Sabbath Law by healing a person’s withered hand. (Matt. 12:9-14) The well being of the person is more important than the Sabbath Law. In fact, in Mark’s version of the Gospel, Jesus’ philosophy is well stated: “…The sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the sabbath.” (Mk. 2:27) The law of God was more important than human law.
Third, the upright and devout Simeon. There are at least two elements that stand out when discussing Simeon. His connection with the Holy Spirit and his message to Mary, Jesus’ mother. The Gospel text is very clear when it says that “…the Holy Spirit rested on him,” (Lk. 2:25) and told him that he would not die until he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. That is to say that the Holy Spirit was very active in the life of Simeon. Simeon told Mary that Jesus was to be the cause of the rise and fall of many in Israel. That is to say that some would accept Jesus and some would not.
Fourth, the elderly widow Anna. One may say that she was an early evangelizer in that she proclaimed Jesus “… to all who were looking for the redemption of Israel.” (Lk. 2:38)
The above becomes a theological framework in the sense that Jesus knows that his lifelong ministry is to make his name of Jesus (“savior”) a reality in this world. That the Law of God is more important than human law because it touches on the dignity of the other person which means justice, compassion, forgiveness. The role of the Holy Spirit is crucial in that it helps us confront challenges to belief practices. The baptism of Jesus occurred in the presence of the Holy Spirit. (Matt. 3:16) Mary made it clear to all disciples that suffering was part of discipleship. The task of proclaiming Jesus to others was left to Jesus’ disciples.
What can we learn from the Gospel reading? …a few things.
First, our task of discipleship is to carry on the ministry of Jesus which is to carry on his work which helps bring about salvation. The name “Christian” which we received at our Baptism gives us the responibility to continue this ministry.
Second, Jesus had told us that people are more important than the law and our perspective should reflect that reality when there is doubt. Justice, compassion, forgiveness will help bring about clarity.
Third, frequent reminders that the Holy Spirit should always be operative in us. And reminders that suffering is part of discipleship. Asking the why of suffering helps us to deal with it.
Fourth, our task of “presenting Jesus to the world” will be our greatest challenge because our personal example will demonstrate to others how serious ly we are Jesus’ disciples.