February 2, 2014
The parents of Jesus, faithful to the prescriptions of the law given to Moses, bring their child Jesus to Jerusalem in order to present him to the Lord through the observance of the appointed temple ritual. A man named Simeon, also a faithful Jew inspired by the Holy Spirit, came to believe that he would not die before he had seen the Messiah. He took the baby Jesus in his arms recognizing him to be the promised one who would bring salvation not only to Israel, but to all people. Simeon blessed them, and said to Mary that she would know a deep sorrow.
In the story of the Presentation, Luke gives us a preview of the major themes he will develop in his gospel. The first one that strikes us is that God is not always present with us in the story of our lives in the way we expect. Jesus, the long awaited Messiah, is born poor. His parents are not even able to offer the customary lamb of the well-to-do, but only “a pair of turtle doves, or two young pigeons.” Then Simeon, inspired by the Holy Spirit, recognizes the child Jesus to be the promised one of God, yet sensed that the child’s mother would know deep sorrow. Michelangelo’s famous marble sculpture expresses the meaning of this sorrow as we see the grieving Mary holding the crucified, lifeless body of her son on her lap. That God’s way of bringing salvation would bring such a painful death to the Messiah and such sorrow to his mother is surely contrary to our human logic and expectation.
Luke juxtaposes the event of the Presentation of the Lord with prayer, another major theme of his gospel. Mary and Joseph offer their child to God in prayer. Simeon and the prophetess Anna bless God for the redemption this child Jesus will one day bring to an oppressed people. Prayer is a means by which we can be freed from the ways of thinking of a fallen humanity, and be in touch with God’s way of thinking. All of us probably at times have succumbed to a superficial, self-serving kind of prayer in which we explain to God exactly how and when the divine power must resolve a difficult situation in our favor. When our expectation is not realized, we tend to doubt whether God really cares about us when more suffering seems to be the only outcome of our prayer. For this reason, Luke takes special care to show us the way Jesus prays, particularly when he realizes that his death is at hand. At this moment, Jesus also realizes what deep grief his suffering and death will bring to his mother.
When Jesus realized that his arrest by Roman soldiers was imminent, he went to the Mount of Olives to pray alone, saying: “Father, if you are willing, take this cup away from me; still, not my will but yours be done” (Luke 22:42). Only his faith, beyond human logic, enabled him to trust that his Father’s will for him could only be love, even though he would suffer and be killed. The cup of suffering, in fact, was not taken away. Jesus, dying an excruciating death on a cross, cried out in a loud voice: “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit” (Luke 23:46). The trust of Jesus in his Father’s love, when every logical reason for trust had been lost, was vindicated in the resurrection. Human and divine love proved to be more powerful than evil and death, and transformed suffering and death to become life-giving for all of us. The special grace of the Eucharist today, through our deeper communion in the life of the Risen Lord, is the gift of praying with unconditional trust in our Father’s love in our time of distress and suffering. This is the bond of love in Christ which will transform our meaningless suffering into life-giving grace for others.
Campion P. Gavaler, OSB