Gospel (Cycle B): Luke 2:22-40
The Jewish Christ of The Underclass
How do people try to hold to the spirit of the Christmas?
Another Christmas has passed. The glow of the season dimly lingers on. While many pack up their lights for another season, others want to hold on, even for the briefest moments, to the promise of Christmas. Peace on earth. Goodwill toward all people.
To those who know Christ firmly hold that the Spirit of the season lives on, for that peace and goodwill is Jesus. In Luke's gospel, the Spirit of Christmas not only lingers, it grows stronger. For God favors his child with wisdom and grace. And through his child he favors us all.
22 After Jesus was born, (the amount of time found in the Law of Moses), Joseph and Mary took the boy to Jerusalem. 23 They presented Jesus to God at the Temple because God's Law said, "The first child whom a mother bears will be called special for God." 24 They also worshiped God with an offering of two birds, just like God's Law commands.
25 A man named Simeon lived in Jerusalem. Always trying to live by God's will, Simeon loved the Lord and waited for God to visit his people. God's Spirit lived in Simeon 26 and told him he would see the Messiah before he died. 27 The Spirit led Simeon into the Temple, where Joseph and Mary brought Jesus to worship God. (They did this for Jesus according to the custom of God's Law.) 28 There, Simeon took Jesus into his arms and praised God:
29 "Now, you can let me die in your peace, Lord;
you kept your word to me.
30 I have seen the One who will save your people,
31 whom everyone will see.
32 He will be a light to every nation,
and will bring great honor to Israel, your people."
33 His father and mother were surprised by what the old man said. 34 Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother, "Listen! God put your child here so many people will fall and many will be raised up. 35 People will oppose him and this will show what they really think. But, this will be like a dagger stabbed in your heart."
36 There was a prophet named Anna, the daughter of Phanuel from the tribe of Asher. She was eighty-four years old. First, she was married for seven years, 37 then she lived alone as a widow. She constantly served God in the Temple by fasting and praying. 38 Anna came to the temple at the same time the family arrived. The woman thanked God for Jesus and spoke to everyone who waited for Israel's freedom about the boy.
39 After they did what God's Law commanded them to do in the Temple, they went home to Nazareth in Galilee. There, Jesus grew strong because God filled him with wisdom. And God blessed him.
22 And when the days of their cleansing according to the Law of Moses were fulfilled, they led HIM up to Jerusalem to present (HIM) to the Lord 23 just as it has been written in the Law of the Lord, "Every male that opens (his mother's) womb will be called holy to the Lord" 24 and to give a sacrificial offering according to that having been said in the Law of the Lord, "A pair of turtle doves or two young pigeons."
25 And, Look! (There) was a man in Jerusalem whose name (was) Simeon, and this man (was) righteous and devout, awaiting the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. 26 And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit not to see death before he might see the Messiah of the Lord. 27 And he went in the Spirit into the Temple. And after the parents led in the small CHILD JESUS so they could perform (the ritual) according to that having been the custom of the Law concerning HIM. 28 He welcomed HIM into (his arms), blessed God, and said:
29 "Now, release your servant, O Despot,
by your word in peace,
30 because my eyes saw your deliverance,
31 whom you prepared in the view of all peoples,
32 a light for the revelation of the nations,
and the glory of your people Israel."
33 And his father and mother were surprised on that spoken about HIM. 34 Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, "Look! THIS (CHILD) is placed for the fall and standing of many in Israel and toward a sign opposed-- 35 and a sword will go through your own soul- so that the thoughts of many hearts might be revealed."
36 (There) was Anna, a prophet, the daughter of Phanuel from the tribe Asher. This (woman) was very old, having lived with her husband seven years from her marriage, and 37 (having lived as) a widow herself until (she was) eighty four years, who did not leave the Temple, in fasting and (prayer) requests serving (God) day and night. 38 In the same hour, having stood (by them), she gave thanks to God and spoke to all those awaiting the ransom of Israel. 39 And, after they completed everything according to the Law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town Nazareth. 40 But, the CHILD grew and was strengthened, being filled with wisdom. And the favor of the Lord was upon HIM.
2:22-24 This long sentence has "led HIM up" as the main verb (with object) with two explanatory infinitives, "to present HIM" and "to give a sacrificial offering." Luke connected the couples' action, the Temple, and the Law to stress the Jewish roots of Jesus.
2:22 "They" refer to Joseph and Mary. The pronoun "HIM"(referring to Jesus) acted as the object of both the verb "led" and the infinitive "to present." "...to present him to the Lord . . . " was not part of the cleansing ritual; it meant bringing Jesus into the presence of the Lord who, according to Jewish belief, dwelt in the Temple.
2:23 " . . . every male that opens the womb . . . " from Exodus 13:2 referred to the first born, both human and animal.
2:24 " . . . to give a sacrificial offering . . . " is literally "to give sacrifice . . . " Since the couple could not offer sacrifice in the Temple (only the priest could perform the ritual), they could only provide the animals for sacrifice. "...a pair of turtle doves..." listed in Leviticus 12:8 as a poor person's substitute for lambs in a purification sacrifice.
2:25 " . . . the consolation of Israel . . . " echoed Isaiah 40:1 and 61:2. This phrase referred to the comfort God would give Israel at the end of time when the Messiah would come. John the Evangelist used the word "comfort" (i.e., "paraklesis" in Greek) to describe the Spirit (the Paraclete); the Spirit was a gift the Messiah would give at his arrival.
2:29 "O Despot" is a literal translation meaning "Lord." The word "despot" finds its root in the Greek. "Peace" means "Shalom," a feeling of harmony with God, one's neighbor, and nature. In this sense, peace is living God's will, not a stress-free life or a life without violence.
2:31 " . . . in the view of . . . " is literally " . . . in the face of . . . "
2:32 " . . . for the revelation of the nations . . . " is literally " . . . toward the unveiling of the nations . . . "
2:34 " . . . fall and standing . . . " refers to scandal and faith; it also refers to death and resurrection ("standing up" in Greek means resurrection). "...a sign opposed . . . " is literally " . . . a sign being spoken against . . . " Jesus would be opposed.
2:36 " . . . very old . . . " is literally " . . . advanced in many days . . . " " . . . from her marriage . . . " is literally " . . . from her virginity . . . " " . . . having lived . . . " is the participle governing both clauses about marriage and her age as a widow.
2:40 " . . . grew and was strengthened, being filled with wisdom . . . " Growth and strength refer to character, not physical size, for both are modified by the phrase " . . . being filled with wisdom." In the Hebrew Scriptures, wisdom came from God as a gift of the Spirit. Hence, the growth and strength of character were heaven sent.
In Luke's gospel, Joseph and Mary brought the child Jesus to the Temple for two reasons: the child's presentation and the mother's purification. Luke used the ceremonies, the place, and the witnesses to further proclaim Jesus as the Christ.
According to Leviticus 12:3-4, boys were circumcised eight days after birth.. According to Jewish tradition, this ceremony declared the son legitimate (i.e., "presented") before God and the community. [2:22-23] A child's mother was unclean for thirty-three days. Only after that period could the mother celebrate the rite of purification with an offering. [2:24] While Luke referred to the circumcision of Jesus eight days after his birth in 2:21, he combined the presentation aspect of circumcision with the purification of Mary in one ceremony, extending it to the family (see 2:22; "their cleansing"). Luke, in fact, used the purification ceremony to emphasize the presentation of Jesus, just as Hannah presented (i.e., dedicated) Samuel to God at the Temple (1 Samuel 1:22-28). The question remained, what type of service would Jesus give? Luke portrayed the rituals in the Temple to advance his theme. Jesus would serve God as the Jewish Christ of the underclass.
Let's analyze that theme. First, Jesus was truly Jewish. His parents were devout Jews, piously following the dictates of the Law. In fact, their devotion fulfilled the Law, just as Jesus fulfilled the Law and the Prophets. [2:22-24]
Second, Jesus was called to be the Christ. The locale and the monologue promote his title. The Temple was the locus of Jewish devotion, for they believed God definitely dwelt within its walls. One of the most famous scenes in the Temple was Isaiah 6, the young prophet's call by God. With the symbolic connection between God, his palace (i.e., the Temple), and Isaiah the prophet, add his prophetic themes about the promised royal child (see Isaiah 11:1-10). Popular Jewish belief held the coming Messiah would be a king-priest, who would rule and offer true sacrifice. By holding the presentation of Jesus (i.e., his circumcision) in the Temple, Luke not only saw Jesus as the possession of the Father, he also saw Jesus in the Temple as the fulfillment of Isaiah's prophecy. Jesus was the Christ-child, future king and priest.
The monologue of the witnesses emphasized the messianic theme. Simeon, the Spirit-filled man, announced this child as the promised One who would bring about the Day of Judgement (when the nation would be saved). Simeon prayed to see the Messiah. The Spirit assured him that his prayer would be answered. [2:25-26] His Canticle was a prayer of thanks and proclamation. The child he held in his arms brought him God's peace (his Shalom; see the Translation note for 2:29). For this Simeon gave thanks. But this child was salvation of the nation [2:30] who would return honor to God's people [2:32]. At the same time, the non-Jews would witness his rising [2:31]. He would enlighten them with God's wisdom [2:32].
Next, Simeon turned to Mary and proclaimed the child would cause the fall and rising of many. The fall and rising can refer to scandal and faith. It can also refer to condemnation (God's judgment) and resurrection (his salvation). He would be a sign many opposed, but their actions would reveal their true intent. The scandal-judgment of Jesus would cause Mary deep pain. [2:33-35]
Finally, the people in the scene stressed the underclass, the large majority of those living in the ancient world. Notice those in the passage. The poor Jewish couple, Simeon who did not seem to have family, and the widow Anna who lived alone. While Joseph could support Mary with a trade, Simeon and Anna had no apparent income. As a Spirit-filled man, Simeon followed God's lead. As a prophetess, Anna acted as social critique and religious icon. While Simeon appeared to live day-to-day, Anna was nearly homeless as a widow (unless her children or her extended family supported her; widows were synonymous with the homeless in the ancient world).
Notice who was not in the passage: priests or other Temple officials. Steeped in money and privilege, these Sadducees would later oppose Jesus in his Temple ministry. In their absence from the passage, Luke emphasized God's presence with the common people. The Temple aristocrats were not needed as mediators. The child would be the mediator. [2:25-26, 36-37]
The presentation of the child would have an effect. Jesus grew in character as God favored him with wisdom and his presence (see Translation Notes on 2:40). [2:39-40]
Catechism Themes: The Mysteries of Christ's Infancy: Part 1 (CCC 527, 529)
Jesus' presentation at the Temple represents his unity with his people and his place as the First Born of the Father. As a circumcised Jew, Jesus was a true son of Abraham. He followed the Law, worshiped God in the Temple, and extended himself to his fellow countrymen.
Jesus was also the unique first born of his Father, the "light to the nations" and "the glory of Israel." But his status would come at a price. He would be opposed by the leadership and would suffer death, symbolized by the dagger in Mary's heart. Yet, the public nature of his death would be the sign of universal salvation, "in sight of all nations."
Have you ever experienced God in church, but in way unexpected? Has God ever caught you by surprise, yet in a way that gave new insight? Have children ever caused you to wonder? What happened?
In the place of God's dwelling, a child is presented and given a mission. In the experience of a child, God gave the world Good News. In the sight of a family, the world saw the presence of God with his people. Yes, the Spirit of the season lingers on. And it grows stronger as long as we hold the Christ Child close to us.
Take one or two spiritual gifts you have been given this season. Share them with a friend or two this week.