JESUS THE TEMPLE GOES TO THE TEMPLE
Today Jesus the Temple goes to the Temple. I have been wondering why a Divine personified Temple is to be presented in a man-made Temple in Jerusalem? My heart also beats faster when I imagine why purification is today being made by a woman who had a Holy and virginal birth! Today in fulfillment of the Jewish law whereupon every Jewish first son is presented to the temple 40 days (7days before child’s circumcision and 33days of mother’s purification) after birth, Jesus in the company of his parents is presented in the temple. This is accompanied with double sacrifices: purification of the mother who was regarded to be unclean after birth and the presentation and redemption of the son. This double sacrifice is offered with a lamb as burnt offering and a turtle dove or a pigeon for sin offering. Nevertheless, for poor families who may not be able to afford a lamb in alternative offer a pair of turtle dove and two young pigeons (Lev. 12;1-8).
Today we celebrate the Presentation of the Lord in the Temple of Jerusalem, a Feast occurring forty days after the Nativity of Our Lord. This is a continuation of the Christmas celebration. It is also known as the Feast of the Purification as described in today’s Gospel account. The Lord comes to purify everything not only our human nature but also the Temple, the priesthood, and all that has been tarnished by our sins. Along with Christmas and Epiphany, the Presentation of the Lord carries the theme of light shining in the darkness. Before God’s power, and when confronted by God’s love, even the darkest of our sins cannot overcome the lovely light of God’s choice to love us and the gift of God’s Word made flesh among us.
The Jewish world is a world of symbolism and signs. Figures and numbers are of great significance. Along with the numbers 3, 7, 8, 12, the number 40 has special significance in the Jewish world and in our Judeo-Christian religious history. Some of these significances include: when Jesus began His public ministry he went out into the desert and fasted for forty days and forty nights and then was tempted by the Devil, we have forty days of Lent before Easter, Noah was in the ark for forty days and forty nights when God purified the world and started over again by re-creating all of the earth’s living creatures, Moses was on the mountain with God for forty days when he received the Ten Commandments, the Israelites spent forty years in the wilderness that is; one year for each day they journeyed toward the Promised Land e.t.c. The dedication of first-born son was done forty days after birth in commemoration of the forty years the Jews sojourned in the desert before they entered the Promised Land. Little wonder therefore the symbolism of the number forty has gone beyond religious matter to a societal significance. Hence the number forty is of great value in the society that people would conclude that a fool at forty is a fool forever!
The above paragraphs have made effort to answer why this feast should occur after forty days. Another question is, why must this feast be celebrated? While in the land of Egypt, the tenth plague inflicted upon Pharaoh and the Egyptians as a result of their refusal to release the Jews from slavery was the most terrible of all of those ten plagues. All of the first-born males of the Egyptians were lost to the Avenging Angels of Death, those angels passing over the dwellings of the Hebrews, dwellings whose doorposts were marked with the blood of the sacrificial lamb. The first born of the children of Israel were spared because they belong to the Lord. In gratitude and in thanksgiving, from thence Jewish parents dedicated their first-born sons to God by presenting them in the Temple (Ex.13.2). By Jesus’ day, parents whose first child was a boy would go to the Temple with the appropriate offering to present their child to the Lord. Thus Mary and Joseph present their first-born to God in the Temple, thereof fulfilling the religious traditions and laws of their forefathers.
It was at the instance of this presentation and dedication of the child Jesus that inspired Simeon and Anna the prophetess. This is the critical juncture between the Old and New Testaments. Simeon and Anna: old, devout, and inspired, received the Child with eager welcome and handed the Child over to Mary. Amidst words of prophecy, praise and thanksgiving, the Old hands over the Messiah to the New. Their words described Jesus as the consolation of Israel (God’s people) and the redemption of Israel respectively. The child remained in their words a sign of contradiction for unbelief and cause of sword to the heart of Mary. Hence from the beginning Mary was there and in the end Mary was there under the Cross silently “keeping all of these things in heart” and pondering what they might mean. She remains a model for us. In her quiet humility and openness to whatever God wants to accomplish in and through her, she witnesses to us what it means to be a Christian; she represents how we should respond to God’s presentation of Himself to us.
Another question that really bugs the mind is, why should this infant and baby Jesus be initiated into Jewish religion without His consent? Why should Jesus be incardinated and fully integrated into the Jewish religion without His consent? This is really my question for those who question infant baptism on the basis that the child has not consented to the act! More so if parents don’t seek their child’s consent to provide for him the basic necessities of life such as education and learning; what is more basic a necessity in life than our spiritual necessities which is inaugurated by baptism. Thus our purification and sanctification begins at baptism. May we realize today the need for infant baptism! Unlike the Jewish religion, Christianity today does not accept that a woman becomes impure and defiled just because she puts to bed, presentation or dedication in our time has a greater focus on the child’s initiation.
By the fulfillment of this Jewish order Simeon has revealed to us that Christ is a light that enlightens us the gentiles. May we live in his light and may his light be shed in the darkness of our lives: sins, difficulties and life challenges. Amen!