FEAST OF THE PRESENTATION OF THE LORD
By: Rev. Fr. AMEH Sylvanus
Readings: Malachi 3:1-4; Psalm 24; Hebrews 2:14-18; Luke 2:22-40
Theme: JESUS THE SIGN OF CONTRADICTION
Today we celebrate the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord Jesus, in commemoration of the time when he was presented in the temple at Jerusalem according to Jewish law. By law, this is done after a woman’s time of purification (Lev 12:1ff) and it is 40 days after the birth of a male child and 80 days if it is a female child. The law also prescribes the sacrifices to be offered for the ceremony: a one year old lamb for burnt offering and a pigeon or turtledove for a sin offering. If the couple are poor, then they are to offer two pigeons or turtle-doves, one for burnt offering and one for sin offering (Lev 12:8). The parents of Jesus brought two pigeons (Lk 2:24), implying that they are poor people who could not afford a lamb. There are three things we should note from this.
- It is child presentation, not child dedication – Many Catholics today talk about child dedication whereas they should be saying child presentation. Children are dedicated to God in the Sacrament of baptism when they are anointed with the Oil of the Holy Chrism to become priests, prophets and kings. When they are brought to church, the proper term then is presentation. The Catholic Church celebrates two presentations: of Jesus (February 2nd) and of the Blessed Virgin Mary (November 21st), not dedication. Please learn the difference.
- Child dedication (baptism) and presentation (bringing to church) should be done as soon as possible – We now see a practice where people wait for three months before bringing their new born children for baptism and presentation. This practice is foreign to scriptures and to Catholic teaching. As soon as a child is born, the child is already due for baptism and as soon as the woman is strong enough, having recovered from the lost strength of pregnancy and childbirth, she is good to resume her church activities. The practice of waiting for three months is therefore neither scriptural nor in line with the teachings of the church. As shown above, even scripturally, the time of seclusion for the woman is a maximum of 80 days, which is less than the 90 days in three months. So where did this practice come from? Funny enough, the same women who say their time is not yet due to return to the church are strong enough to go everywhere else except to the church. Besides, the law of purification which secludes the woman for 40 or 80 days is a Jewish and not a Christian law, meaning that it is not binding on Christians.
- Child presentation is not an expensive affair – I have seen people who have refused to bring their children for baptism and presentation because they claim not to have money. But child presentation does not require money! As scripture prescribes in the gospel reading, the offering to be brought by the parents of the child is according to their financial strength. In the same vein, whatever Christian parents of today wish to bring to the church as they present their child should depend on what they can afford. There is no law that specifies what parents must bring to the church, neither is there any law that says there must be a party at home after the church activity. If you can afford it, by all means, do, but if you cannot, do not kill yourself! Just bring your child and the little gift you can afford to the church.
We shall now draw two lessons from the gospel text for our reflection.
Lesson 1: Jesus understands our difficulties
The inability of Jesus’ parents to afford a lamb indicates that they were poor. So Jesus, to whom everything belongs and through whom all things were created, was born into a poor carpenter’s family, without a silver spoon. He had no luxuries and he knew the difficulties of making a living by working as a carpenter (Mk 6:3 – Is this not the carpenter, the son of Mary?). Scripture says that Jesus had to become like us in all things in order that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest, and because he himself was tempted by what he suffered, he is able to help those who are going through tough times (Heb 2:17-18). So dear children of God, whatever it is that we are going through, Jesus understands it all because he knows human nature first hand. Normally, it is difficult to understand a pain we have not personally experienced. For instance, it is difficult to understand the pain of a grieving parent if you have never lost a child. But whatever it is that we are going through as human beings, Jesus perfectly understands and he has promised that he will be with us through them all (Mat 28:20). This should be a big consolation and encouragement to us all, knowing that we are never alone, for the merciful Jesus is in it with us. All we need to do is to answer his invitation, take it to him in prayer and allow him to give us rest.
Lesson 2: Jesus the sign of contradiction
Let us begin here by asking the question: In which direction does a stairway go? Up or down? The answer depends on which side we stand and in which direction we want to go. The gospel reading tells us that Simeon describes Jesus as a sign of contradiction, a sign which shall cause the rise and the fall of many. This is very strange and hard to accept, but it is very true. Indeed, Jesus is and has been the sign of contradiction for all generations since his incarnation. Whether a person rises or falls on account of Jesus isn’t so much about God’s judgment of the person; it is more of the person’s judgment of himself which usually happens in his reaction and response to the invitations of Jesus Christ. Jesus has taught and left us his word/commandments. If we accept it, we rise; if we reject his message and commandments, we fall. Jesus offers us his mercy: if we accept it, we rise, if we reject it, we fall. Many people use Jesus’s name to help people and they rise: many others also use the same name of Jesus to deceive and mislead others, and they fall. Jesus therefore is like the stairway by which we can either rise to higher floors of a building or descend to lower floors. It all depends on where we stand and whether we want to go up or go down. If we accept the command of Jesus and live by his precepts, we shall rise, but if we do the opposite, then we shall fall. We therefore ask ourselves today: in relation to Jesus, am I rising or falling? May the Lord help us to realize this truth and work hard to rise in Jesus. Amen.