Signpost for February 2 2014 (Presentation of Jesus in the Temple – Candlemas): Malachi 3:1-5; Psalm 24:7-10; Heb 2:14-18; Luke 2:22-40
Happy New Liturgical Year. And it is happy because this chapter is like an ancient version of the proud parent’s Facebook page post. The circumcision, naming and presentation in the temple are first century equivalents to those times when all parents show off their children and share their delight in them.
The happy events start one verse before our official reading (22:1) with Jesus’ circumcision and official declaration of his name and then what we have in Luke is the whole of Jesus’s (Greek) or Joshua’s or Yeshua’s (they’re the same name in Hebrew) childhood. Well, at least only Luke mentions it at all, and we know that he’s making the whole thing up. But as with many made up stories this one does contain some truth.
Firstly, we can be absolutely sure that Yeshua was circumcised eight days after he was born. But he wasn’t the only one. Now you, like me, might think this was a particularly Jewish event that the gentiles Luke was writing for might not have appreciated all that much. (Especially when we think of the trouble Paul had to go to convince people that physical circumcision wasn’t really necessary – Romans 2:25-29). But it turns out that almost all males in the Mediterranean area were circumcised, except the Philistines. The Romans performed the deed on the ninth day, the Greeks on the seventh or tenth day and Arabs on the thirteenth birthday following the tradition established in Gen 17:23-26.
And it’s certainly true that Mary and Joseph turned up with the baby either at the Temple or the local synagogue for purification after the birth of the child. Whether they bought the cheapest purification offering allowable (22: 24) or flashed some of their recently received gold, frankincense or myrrh at the Rabbi, I’ll leave you to decide. (Luke, of course, knows nothing about their bling.)
Meanwhile, Simeon comes out with the best poetry in the whole of Luke (2:29-35). The really surprising thing, though, is verse 36: the first prophet since Malachi, the first prophet for over 400 years is a woman. Anna not Simeon. I think that’s a sign that the Jesus respects tradition but he won’t be hamstrung by it.
On which note, I read a very interesting piece by Susan K. Hedahl in the Huffington Post yesterday . She reckons that Luke shows us “a picture of hope, innocence and adult concern for the infant Jesus.” She points out that these words have at their centre a child: and surely that’s a prompt to everyone to consider the treatment and well being of children today.