Tue, 28 January 2020
Today’s feast marks the Presentation of the Lord Jesus in the Temple, forty days after he was born. As the firstborn, he belonged to God. According to the Law, Mary and Joseph were required to take him to the Temple and “redeem” him by paying five shekels. At the same time, the Law required the child’s mother to offer sacrifice in order to overcome the ritual impurity brought about by childbirth.
So the feast we celebrate shows a curious turn of events. The Redeemer seems to be redeemed. She who is all-pure presents herself to be purified. Such is the humility of our God. Such is the humility of the Blessed Virgin. They submit to the law even though they are not bound by it.
However, the Gospel story nowhere mentions Jesus’ “redemption,” but seems to describe instead a religious consecration—such as a priest might undergo. Saint Luke tells us that Jesus is “presented” in the Temple, using the same verb that Saint Paul uses to describe the offering of a sacrifice (see Romans 12:1). Another parallel is the Old Testament dedication of Samuel (1 Sam 1:24-27) to the Temple as a priest.
The drama surrounding Jesus’ conception and birth began in the Temple—when the Archangel visited Mary’s kinsman, Zechariah the priest. And now the story of Jesus’ infancy comes to a fitting conclusion, again in the Temple.
All the readings today concern Jerusalem, the Temple, and the sacrificial rites. The first reading comes from the Prophet Malachi, who called the priests to return to faithful service—and foretold a day when a Messiah would arrive with definitive purification of the priesthood.
Likewise, the Psalm announces to Jerusalem that Jerusalem is about to receive a great visitor. The Psalmist identifies him as “The LORD of hosts . . . the king of glory.”
Christ now arrives as the long-awaited priest and redeemer. He is also the sacrifice. Indeed, as his life will show, He is the Temple itself (see John 2:19-21).