Jesus Mary Joseph at the Temple

The Feast of the Presentation of Jesus at the Temple is a very important feast day in Catholic Church. It is also one that we reflect upon at least twice a week in the fourth Joyful Mystery of Holy Rosary of our Blessed Mother Mary. In Christian tradition this Gospel account has also been called the Hypapante (Ὑπαπαντή, literally meaning ‘Meeting’ in Greek), Candlemas, the Feast of the Purification of the Virgin, and the Meeting of the Lord. The Gospel reading for the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord comes from Luke 2:22-24, but the backdrop of the story begins with Leviticus 12:1-4, which reads:

    The LORD said to Moses:

    Tell the Israelites: When a woman has a child, giving birth to a boy, she shall be unclean for seven days, with the same uncleanness as during her menstrual period. On the eighth day, the flesh of the boy’s foreskin shall be circumcised, and then she shall spend thirty-three days more in a state of blood purity; she shall not touch anything sacred nor enter the sanctuary till the days of her purification are fulfilled.

One thing we know about the Holy Family is that they were very faithful and observant Jews. So, according to the law, the infant Yeshua was circumcised on the eighth day (Cf. Lk. 2:21), and on the fortieth day after the Theotokos had given birth to her Son, she and Joseph went to the Temple in Jerusalem to do two things: (1) For Mary’s purification, and (2) For Joseph to pay the redemption for their Son.

It is interesting to note that early Jewish commentaries on Leviticus 12:1-4 (Cf. Tosefta Keritot 2:21 and Mishnah Keritot 1:7, 2:4) indicated that a woman was allowed to postpone her sacrifice until she had an opportunity to go to Jerusalem, and sometimes she could wait until she had given birth a number of times until she made the trip; perhaps on a family pilgrimage. Not such the case with Mary and Joseph! They were very obedient to the letter of the law and followed it faithfully according its prescription.

Mary’s purification simply involved waiting in line behind a number of other women at the steps of Temple to go through a ritual immersion in one of the hundreds of immersion pools. In the meantime, Joseph and Jesus would have probably bought the “pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons” in the marketplace outside of Temple. Then at some prearranged meeting spot Mary would rejoined them and, together, they would have proceeded to enter the Temple to present their sacrifice. Again, the second purpose of their visit to the Temple this day was to redeem Jesus; this is, to buy him back into the family, because as Luke notes in v. 24, “Every male that opens the womb shall be consecrated to the Lord” (Cf. Ex 13:2, 12; Lev. 8:17).

The reason why Jesus was able to be redeemed is because he was not a Levite. Whereas the verses from Exodus (13:2, 12) and Leviticus (8:17) informs us that ALL of the first born males were to be consecrated to God, by the time we get to Numbers (3:45-48) God is ready to create a priesthood that is specific and set-apart. He tells Moses:

    Take the Levites in place of all the firstborn of the Israelites, and the Levites’ cattle in place of their cattle, that the Levites may belong to me. I am the LORD. As a redemption-price for the two hundred and seventy-three firstborn of the Israelites over and above the number of the Levites, you shall take five shekels for each individual, according to the sanctuary shekel, twenty gerahs to the shekel. Give this money to Aaron and his sons as a redemption-price for the extra number

It is, indeed, a cosmic dose of beautiful irony here in the fact that Joseph redeemed the child who would in Himself thirty-three years later redeem all.

But back to the story. So, there were probably any number of older priests working in the Temple like Simeon who were physically unable to perform the more strenuous sacrificial rites, such as cutting the neck a bull. Older priests like him were tasked with things like this; receiving the redemption money for firstborn sons. The text tells us that Simeon was “righteous and devout, awaiting the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he should not see death before he had seen the Christ of the Lord.” Then on a day that was probably just like any other day for him working in the Temple, it happened. Joseph and Mary approached Simeon and after he took Jesus into arms he immediately blessed God, saying:

    “Now, Master, you may let your servant go in peace, according to your word, for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you prepared in the sight of all the peoples: a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and glory for your people Israel.”

Imagine Joseph and Mary standing in front of Simeon hearing him say all of that. They were amazed about what he said about their son, but the old priest wasn’t done prophesying yet. He then looked at Mary and said,

    “Behold, this child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted — and you yourself a sword will pierce — so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.”

There was also another person near the Holy Family and Simeon who was hearing all of this. It was a prophetess named Anna. The text tells us that she was advanced in age and that she worshiped night and day at the Temple with fasting and prayer; never leaving it. Coming forward while this was all going on, “she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were awaiting the redemption of Jerusalem.”

Jesus who was brought to the Temple to be redeemed was prophesied to be the redemption of Jerusalem.

There is a whole lot to reflection upon in this story, but I believe the main thing to take away from here is the imitation of Joseph, Mary, Simeon, and Anna. That is, when we are being obedient to God and doing exactly what He has called us to do, when He has called us to do it, how He has called us to do it, and where He has called us to do it, what we get the opportunity to enjoy is an utter avalanche of blessings just as all the people in this story did. Therefore, let us strive always to be In Place in the Circle of Grace.

PSALMS 24:7, 8, 9, 10
Lift up, O gates, your lintels;
reach up, you ancient portals,
that the king of glory may come in!

Who is this king of glory?
The LORD, strong and mighty,
the LORD, mighty in battle.

Lift up, O gates, your lintels;
reach up, you ancient portals,
that the king of glory may come in!

Who is this king of glory?
The LORD of hosts; he is the king of glory.
..

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Scripture texts in this blog are taken from the New American Bible with Revised New Testament and Revised Psalms © 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington, D.C. and are used by permission of the copyright owner. All Rights Reserved. No part of the New American Bible may be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the copyright owner.