Today, forty days after the celebration of the nativity of our Lord and saviour Jesus Christ, we have gathered to commemorate his presentation in the Temple. This observance combines two Old Testament prescriptions. According to the book of Exodus, (Ex 13:1, 11-16), all first born, belong to the Lord, and must be redeemed, human and animal alike. A child is redeemed by making an offering to the Lord. An animal is sacrificed or redeemed with a lower animal. This prescription underscored that all lives belong to God. We recall that Elkanah and Hannah, the parents of Samuel did not redeem him because of the promise Hannah had made to the Lord before she conceived him. Hannah was barren and she made a promise to the Lord that if she conceived and gave birth, the child would be offered for the Lord’s service. Thus, Samuel was later brought to the Temple in Shiloh and handed to Eli the high priest, and he lived and served the Lord in the Temple all the days of his life, (1Sam 1:9-28).
The second prescription was that of purification of a mother after childbirth. Detail of this instruction is found in Leviticus 12:1-8. A mother was expected to present herself in the place of worship for her purification either forty or eighty days after childbirth. A middle-class family would bring a lamb for holocaust and a pigeon or turtledove for a sin offering. However, a less privilege family would present two turtledoves or two pigeons, one to be offered as a holocaust and the other as a sin offering.
The first reading from the book of prophet Malachi, (Mal 3:1-4), prophesied that the Lord the people of Israel were seeking would suddenly “enter his temple.” The entering of the Temple by the Lord would bring about cleansing and purification for the people of God.
The Gospel, (Luke 2:22-32), narrated the presentation of Jesus in the Temple and the welcoming of Mary back to the temple after the birth of Jesus. Today’s celebration focuses on Jesus’ presentation. The parents of Jesus being on tight budget offered two pigeons or two turtledoves. The prophecy of Malachy about the Lord entering his Temple was fulfilled when the baby Jesus, who is “Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father and Prince of Peace”, (Is 9:6), was brought into the Temple. Though his parents may have redeemed him as the custom was, however, he, like Samuel, was destined to live in the Lord’s presence. He stressed this fact when he reminded his parents in the Temple in Jerusalem at the age of twelve that he must be after “his Father’s business”, (Luke 2:49).
During Jesus’ presentation the senior citizen Simeon who awaited the restoration of Israel, held him in his hands and praised God for according him the privilege of beholding the messiah. He referred to Christ as the light of the Gentiles and the one who would restore glory to the people of Israel. He also stated that Jesus was “destined for the fall and for the rising of many in Israel, destined to be the sign that is rejected.” Simeon’s prophecy was providential when viewed through the lens of the hostility Jesus experienced during his earthly ministry, leading to his death and resurrection for our sanctification.
Jesus Christ was truly God and truly human. The second reading, (Heb 2:14-18), underscored the humanity of Jesus. He had flesh and blood like every human being, and experienced human temptations though he had no sin, (Heb 4:5). Hence, he can relate with us when we approach him with our brokenness and failures. By his death on the cross, he has redeemed all humanity and given us the power to triumph over evil.
Jesus’ presentation in the Temple was his dedication. We too have been dedicated through our baptism. We are called to recommit ourselves to our baptismal promises of rejecting evil and everything that is contrary to the will of God.
As we commemorate the feast of the presentation of Jesus in the Temple, I invite you in your prayers, to be mindful of those who are referred to as ‘Religious” in the church. These people take the vows known as evangelical counsels – the vows of poverty, chastity (celibacy) and poverty. The members of this group include the Spiritans, Jesuits, Dominicans, Marist, Presentation sisters, Josephites, Christian Brothers, Brigidines and Palotines.
Finally, we are aware that today is the first Sunday in February. Hence, the holiday period is over. I wish to inform you that our Parish theme for 2020 is OUTREACH. We would implement THIS theme by intensifying our ministry to the school families and young adults, increasing home visitations to Parishioners, supporting programmes that ameliorate the lives of the poor and marginalised and catechesis. As a Parish, we will continue to be actively involved in the preparation of the Plenary Council by organising sessions to explore the question: how is God calling us to be a Christ-centred Church that is: missionary and evangelising; inclusive, participatory and synodal; prayerful and Eucharistic; humble, healing and merciful; a joyful, hope-filled and servant community; open to conversion, renewal and reform?
Through the implementation of our parish theme, we shall be furthering the vision of Archbishop Peter Comensoli for the Archdiocese of Melbourne. His vision entitled, Reform in the walking has four priority areas – young people, families, the poor and the marginalised.
The Lord is Good, All the Time!
Fr Chinua Okeke CSSp.