Celebrate the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph with another collaborative Franciscan Gospel post. This weekly Sunday Gospel reflection and questions are written by Fr. Paul Gallagher, OFM. They are edited by Franciscan Sister of Christian Charity Sister Anne Marie Lom and Joe Thiel. The excerpts from the Sunday readings are prepared by Joe Thiel. If you would like to read or download the complete pdf with excerpts for your prayer, please click here: Franciscan Gospel Reflection December 31 2017 Excerpts from the Lectionary for Mass for Use in the Dioceses of the United States of America, second typical edition © 2001, 1998, 1997, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Inc., Washington, DC. Used with permission. All rights reserved. No portion of this text may be reproduced by any means without permission in writing from the copyright owner. Please include this information when printing.
When the days were completed for their purification according to the law of Moses, they took him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord, just as it is written in the law of the Lord, “Every male that opens the womb shall be consecrated to the Lord,” and to offer the sacrifice of “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons,” in accordance with the dictate in the law of the Lord.
Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon. This man was righteous and devout, awaiting the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he should not see death before he had seen the Messiah of the Lord. He came in the Spirit into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus to perform the custom of the law in regard to him, he took him into his arms and blessed God, saying: “Now, Master, you may let your servant go in peace, according to your word, for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you prepared in sight of all the peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and glory for your people Israel.” The child’s father and mother were amazed at what was said about him; and Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, “Behold, this child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted (and you yourself a sword will pierce) so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.”
There was also a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was advanced in years, having lived seven years with her husband after her marriage, and then as a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple, but worshiped night and day with fasting and prayer. And coming forward at that very time, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were awaiting the redemption of Jerusalem.
When they had fulfilled all the prescriptions of the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. 40 The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.
Photos: St. Therese, Schofield, WI, St. Peter in the Loop, Chicago, IL
The gospel text presents a picture of the faithfulness of Joseph and Mary. In the first verses of the second chapter of his gospel, Luke tells his community that Joseph and Mary went to Nazareth to be enrolled to fulfill the decree of Caesar Augustus (Luke 2:1-5). Just as Joseph and Mary are faithful in fulfilling the command of the civil authorities, they are also faithful in fulfilling their religious requirements of purification. In this text, Luke states five times that Joseph and Mary are acting to fulfill the law (verses 22, 23, 24, 27, and 39).
This faithful home of Joseph and Mary is the home in which Jesus will be raised and grow not only physically but also emotionally and spiritually. Following this gospel text Luke will also recount the occasion when Mary and Joseph found “the lost” Jesus in the temple. (Luke 2:41-51) While many have tried to fill in the missing details of Jesus’s early life, the early Christians who would have had access to those who remembered Jesus’s early life chose only to record these two incidents from that time. This gospel text is an important window into the family and the early life of Jesus that deserves our attention.
The Jews believed that blood contained a life-power, belonged to God, and was sacred. Therefore, it was kept separated from the mundane things of life. When that separation was not preserved, the people and the objects that came into contact with the blood needed to be ritually purified. Naturally both birth and death became the focus of many purification practices. A second belief within the Jewish tradition was that the first-born son belonged to God. Therefore, an offering was made to God as a way to acknowledge God’s claim on the child.
In the text, Joseph, Mary, and Jesus had gone to the temple to make the necessary offerings in fulfillment of requirements associated with these two beliefs. While they were there, they encountered Simeon and Anna. This encounter probably took place in the outer courtyard of the temple where women would have been permitted. By addressing Mary, Simeon was acting in way that was out of character for men of the day, who never addressed unfamiliar women in public. Both Simeon and Anna are described as people who had spent much of their life waiting for the day of fulfillment. They are the ones who recognized the divine presence within the infant Jesus. While it is not directly stated, it is implied that the religious officials who would have been about the temple area did not recognize God’s presence within the child.
- How much did the values of your parents and their culture affect how they raised you?
- Has there been a time in your life when you felt disappointed in the preparation your parents provided?
- Has there also been a time or an incident when you discovered a new appreciation for the way you were raised?
- How do you look on the role Joseph and Mary played in the life of Jesus?
- The gospels present that God has been actively preparing not only Joseph and Mary for this moment in history, but all of creation with them. Why would God choose this manner of beginning God’s fullest presence in our world?
- Can you talk to God, who chose to bring Jesus into the world through the family of Joseph and Mary, about your own beginnings, or about your hopes to be a place where God presence can grow and develop, or some other awareness that rose within you as you read this gospel?