With Jesus and his life among us, there is always the two-tier, if not three-tier, and perhaps even more layers to all that he does among us. Each action, at least those that are recorded, is loaded with meaning. Mary and Joseph, Jesus’ earthly parents, were fulfilling the religious laws of good Jews in bringing the little Jesus to the temple to be presented. They were on the run from Herod, most likely—but this they had to do first!
Coming to the temple, which was Jesus’ first time of several that Scripture records for us, was about fulfilling an earthly, religious law, but it was also about the beginning of a short life, fully immersed within humanity, doing what his God asked of him. This, my friends, is a good reflection for each of us, “doing what God asked of him,” and ultimately—of us. In the words of the prophet Malachi, “the messenger of God’s promises is surely coming!”
The basic action of bringing a newborn to the temple to be presented to God with the prayer that this same God would protect the child and assist them throughout life was the top tier of the meaning of this feast. There was a dual purpose for Mary, his mother—or any mother, presenting herself as a way to be, “purified” according to the law, after the birth of a child. And again, Mary and Joseph, being good and faithful Jews, would have felt the need to do, “all that was right.”
With these surface actions fulfilled—those that all good Jews would do; we then must go deeper, to have well-known prophecies fulfilled, in order to make the connections to a greater plan. We read in Luke today that, “Simeon was prompted by the Spirit to come to the temple,” on the very day that the parents of Jesus arrived to present him. We also know that the Spirit had spoken to Simeon earlier, “a devout and just man,” Scripture says, that, “he would not see death until he had seen the Messiah of God.”
So Simeon and his counterpart, Anna, had the task of confirming for Mary and Joseph that their child was indeed the Messiah of God! We can only imagine in the day- to-day life of caring for an infant, and those of you who have done that know what I am speaking of, the miracle of all that they both had learned along the way of how this child had come into their lives, would need confirmation throughout their life times of who he truly was. Simeon and Anna were two such people in God’s hands to “shine a light” into so much that this young couple more than likely just didn’t know.
And the layers of meaning continue—Simeon lets Mary know that, “a sword will pierce her heart.” A reality check, yes! Again, she didn’t fully know what lay ahead for her precious child, “meant to be the rise and fall of many in Israel—a sign to be rejected,” the prophet continues. And then there was Anna, a prophet in her own right. Don’t you wonder—what in fact, she may have said to the young Mary? I like to think, a woman to another woman would have said what Simeon said, but through a woman’s compassionate heart and words for another sister to hear. This is yet another layer to think about as we try to make this story real for our own lives.
Because my friends, these Scriptures, or any Scriptures really only have purpose and meaning in our lives if we take their lessons to heart—make them our own. The Scriptures can’t just be “nice stories” that we read each week and forget about until the same time next year—but stories in fact that help us reflect on our own lives and how we are “to be” in our world, as followers, we say, of this Jesus, from a backward town called Nazareth, of which some asked in his time, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?! Indeed!
We cry out with the psalmist today in our search to make sense of all of this, “Who is this holy one?” And we might add, “Where can we find him?” And why does it matter if we do? The writer to the Hebrews tells us basically that, Jesus is “strength” for us in our search for right living—he was one of us, having gone through all that we do. In other words, we must keep our eyes on him, checking—always checking, with each new situation—how would our brother Jesus respond to this?
Our present lives have many places for us as followers, we say—of Jesus, to first ask, what would he do and when we have figured that out, doing likewise. And you see, for each of us, this is where we often get stuck—following through! We are often like Paul who said, “I know the right thing to do”—it’s doing it, is the thing! I will offer just a few examples for you to consider that I looked at and reflected upon this week:
- Jaimie Mason, writer for the National Catholic Reporter (NCR) wrote on climate change in this week’s paper, quoting Sister Elizabeth Johnson’s words. “We have to be converted to the Earth,” adding that our care for the planet must become, “an intrinsic part of our love for God.” She continues, “The ecological crisis makes clear that the human species and the natural world will flourish or collapse together.” This seems true, doesn’t it as Australia and its wildlife burns, as storms—hurricanes and tornadoes become more lethal, as temperatures on the planet rise and ice sheets, long intact, melt. We, each of us, who sees these changes and can make the connections, must do our part and speak out when the leadership of this country continues to weaken the safeguards put in place over the years by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to protect our planet. And when we realize that these protections are being done away with merely for momentary, monetary gain, we should feel righteous anger at this endangerment.
- We recently watched a public television program on the sand dunes in Indiana and of how in the early part of the 20th Century, this complex system—home to a great variety of plant and animal species was almost lost forever to what some considered necessary material advancement in the form of a shipping port on the Great Lakes. In this case, through the advocacy of concerned citizens, a national park was eventually established, saving some of the dunes and establishing a shipping port as well. The point here being, all this natural beauty would have been destroyed except for concerned people speaking up.
- Another writer for the NCR, Father Thomas Reese wrote this week about the appointment of Bishop Nelson Perez of Cleveland to replace retiring Archbishop Charles Chaput, an ultraconservative in the Philadelphia post. Chaput followed Cardinal George, also a conservative who died in 2015. It has been the practice of Pope Francis, in his papacy, to replace bishops when they reach the age of 75 if they have disagreed with him in his pastoral approach. Chaput’s offense was to respond to Francis’ directive that remarried Catholics should be allowed to take communion by stating that, in his diocese, he would allow this, but only if the couple refrained from having sexual relations! Francis’ contention has always been that communion is food for the wounded, not a reward for the perfect, and Chaput’s successor, Perez, sees communion as Francis does. Reese makes clear that Perez won’t make all the changes that many Catholics long for; birth control, ordination of women, and gay marriage, but his focus will be care for the poor and marginalized as Francis has directed for his bishops—that they cease being about clericalism and return to being shepherds, and this is a least, a very good start! With the naming of Bishop Nelson Perez, the memory of pastoral leaders such as Cardinal Joseph Bernardin, who died in 1996, and led American bishops in reforming the Church after the Second Vatican Council is again raised.
- And finally, I will just lump together a few things in closing—the fact that 10 years ago, Citizens United was sanctioned by the Supreme Court of our country, allowing unlimited amounts of dark money into our elections, basically buying great influence for the rich and powerful, to the detriment of the rest of the people—an action in need of change! At present, the Senate of our country is basically preparing to say, that for all time, the president is above the law—that the person holding this office can do whatever they want, (forget the checks and balances of the other two branches of government) if they claim that they did it in the national interest!
Now, if you are sitting there wondering if your pastor had gone off the rails here—what in fact all this has to do with the Scriptures—let me say, “it all fits,” as Father Richard Rohr would say. Our God is all around us—not, “out there, somewhere,” —in our lives, in our beautiful world for all of us to enjoy—in all the plants and animals and people, given into our care to protect and love as we say we love God.
Today we remember Jesus’ presentation in the temple, basically being offered back in service to the God who sent him—the God who sends us through our baptisms and confirmations. If we as his followers, truly wish to follow him, we too must present ourselves as servants, seeing as many of the connections as we can, naming untruth, injustice, lack of mercy and understanding, hoarding of this world’s goods by the top 1% to the detriment of the rest in this world, pursuing war to get to peace instead of pursuing peace by eliminating war and demanding that these infractions to the law of love not be allowed to stand! We are all better than this and it is time, as our world struggles with poverty and the lack of basics for so many, where violence rather than goodness seems the tone in our own country, to speak our truth, saying, “Enough is enough! Amen? Amen!