The Presentation of the Lord - 2 February
The purification of Mary, the circumcision of Jesus and the presentation of the first-born son in the temple show us the normal humanity of Jesus. Considering how much the humanity of Christ meant to St Francis, this celebration must have been dear to him.
The fact that Jesus was fully human is vitally important for our salvation.
Jesus sought no exemption from the usual requirements of the law and he was given none. The young couple, Mary and Joseph, were doing what all Jewish parents had done for their first-born son for hundreds of years.
The Book of Leviticus sets out the legal requirements for the purification of a woman after childbirth (Lev 12:2-4): "If a woman conceives and gives birth to a boy, she is to be unclean for seven days ... On the eighth day, the child's foreskin must be circumcised, and she must wait another thirty-three days for her blood to be purified. She must not touch anything consecrated nor go to the sanctuary until the time of her purification is over."
So we read in Luke's Gospel (Lk 2:21) that, "When the eighth day came and the child was to be circumcised, they gave him the name Jesus [which means 'God saves']. And when the day came for them to be purified [thirty-three days after his circumcision] as laid down by the Law of Moses, they took him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord."
Luke was not Jewish and is not accurate here regarding Jewish practice. Only the mother needed to be purified. The child had to be bought back from God, or redeemed.
This was in accord with the law stated in the Book of Exodus (Ex 13:1), where God said to Moses: "Consecrate all the first-born to me ... Whether man or beast, this is mine. Of your sons, every first-born of man must be redeemed (that is, the life of an animal sacrificed instead of your son). And when your son asks you 'What does this mean?', you will tell him: 'When Pharaoh stubbornly refused to let us go, God killed all the first-born in the land of Egypt, of man and beast alike. For this I sacrifice to God every male that first issues from the womb, and redeem every first-born of my sons'' (Ex 13:14-16).
Mary and Joseph at the presentation in the Temple were like all the other Jewish couples. They were reliving, through the presentation of their first-born, God's deliverance of his people from Egypt and throughout their long history.
The presence of Jesus at these rituals in the Temple of Jerusalem was momentous in the history of salvation. But no one among the noisy crowd noticed the young couple and their child except two saintly old people, Simeon and Anna. Actually, there was nothing to distinguish them. Like all other Jewish mothers, Mary was ritually purified; and like all other Jewish first-born sons, Jesus was consecrated to God and redeemed by animal sacrifices.
The Book of Leviticus laid down the appropriate sacrifices: "a lamb one year old for a holocaust, and a young pigeon or turtledove as a sacrifice for sin. If she (the mother) cannot afford a lamb, she is to take two turtle doves or two young pigeons" (12:8).
Mary presented the offering of a poor woman, "a pair of turtle doves or two young pigeons" (Lk 2:24). Here is scriptural confirmation of St Francis's devotion to the poor Virgin and her son. He wrote in his Letter to All the Faithful, "He was rich beyond measure, and yet he and his holy Mother chose poverty" (Omnibus, p.93). It is clear that the mother of Jesus and the mother of the Church knows our needy human condition.
Jesus, having taken on our flesh and blood, underwent circumcision in the flesh. After that, "he has been tempted in every way that we are, though he is without sin" (Heb 4:15). He was made like us in everything.
Jesus, God in his Temple, High Priest of the Sanctuary, Lamb provided by God for the sacrifice, is our brother. He is our merciful and faithful mediator in everything that happens to us in life.
We celebrate the presentation of Jesus in the temple.
He has established a new covenant
and is himself the temple of the living God.
Let us acclaim him as our Saviour:
Our eyes have seen your salvation.
Intercessions at Evening Prayer