This Sunday we celebrate The Presentation of Jesus in the Temple in Jerusalem. The festival is also known in various circles as The Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary (primarily in Roman Catholic circles) and is often referred to as Candlemas.
While it is in our church calendar, it is rarely celebrated because we generally only note it when the date, Feb. 2, falls on a Sunday, as it does this year. Luke’s account (the only Gospel writer who tells of this event) presents a number of problems. Most glaring is that there was no specific requirement that Jesus be presented in the temple at this time. His mother was to appear for her “purification” as she had been unclean since the birth of the child and Luke does make reference to this, but then moves on to what is obviously more important to him. The purification was to happen on the 33rd day following the circumcision, which was done on the 8th day (hence the fixed date of Feb. 2).
First born sons were considered Holy to the Lord (v. 23, loosely quoting Exodus 34:19-20) and had to be “redeemed” if they were not to be placed in priestly service. This typically involved a payment of 5 shekels, but no sacrifice, and there was no timetable for this. The sacrifice Luke describes was actually what was required of a poor family for the purification of the mother. I find it interesting that Luke does not mention Jesus being redeemed from priestly service, perhaps foreshadowing Jesus’ priestly work on the cross.
Surely Luke knows the presentation was not required. So how are we to read this? I think it is clear that Luke was more concerned with what happened with Jesus, and to demonstrate that his family went above and beyond to raise Jesus in the religious life of the community and to do everything that might possibly be required.
While there is sometimes criticism of the church today as just a list of legalisms, this reminds us that there is real value in the structured religious life of the community. While we must resist the temptation to be satisfied with simple religious acts, the religious life of the community, engaged in faith, is a critical way that God works in us.
This column appeared in the February 2, 2020 edition of St. John’s eNews. Click here for the complete issue.
If you are reading this at a different time, you may click here for the current eNews.