Presentation of the Lord (02.02.14)
Insight Through A Change Of Mindset
Our authentic interpretation of history may require a mindset change. Events from distant cultures and times carry meaning hidden from us today, even when the language appears to remain the same. Consider this advert in ‘The Times of India’ 70 years ago – ‘Home-loving spinster seeks friendship with single male with a view to marriage’. What mental image do you have of the female described by the wording? Do you picture a middle-aged plus woman perhaps in woollen stockings? An Indian reader 70 yrs. ago would have visualised a young, modern, courageous, out-going single girl looking for love and marriage in a country where arranged marriages were the norm. To intelligently read that ‘Times of India’ a northern hemisphere English-speaking person today would need a change of mindset.
Would a change of mindset help us more fully appreciate the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord, this Sunday? Gentile Christians have to learn how to see through Jewish eyes. One fundamental difference of outlook would be the importance of ‘continuity’. Because Jewish history is scared by violent persecutions, the continuity of the race remains a constant preoccupation. Celibacy has no place in Judaism. A Jewish home without children is incomplete. Jews see their own continuity in that of their children, their children’s children and so forth. ‘Life after death’ equates to life as lived by upcoming generations. There is no Jewish concept of the Resurrection as we have in Christianity. Jewish faith is a constant ‘present’.
For Jewish people, The Shoah (The Holocaust) is not historical. They experience it in the ‘now’. Jews are ‘in touch’ with the Shoah through this ‘continuity’ in a way that Gentiles cannot easily grasp. For Jews, each Friday night’s Sabbath meal is not the re-enactment of a historical event. It is their sharing ‘now’ in the meal eaten by their ancestors on the eve of the Moses’ led journey out of captivity in Egypt millennia ago.
Within the Roman Catholic faith, there is also ‘continuity’. We believe that, in the Eucharist, we are receiving a living and life-giving connection with the continuous presentation Jesus makes of himself, on the Cross, to the Father for the salvation of the world. Jesus’ self-immolation on Calvary continues today in the Mass and will continue until the heavenly Father decrees the end of the world – “Lamb of God, you take away (not took away) the sins of the world”, repeated for emphasis.
To return to the Presentation –
Mary the Jewess gives birth to a Jew, Jesus. The boy’s foster-father, Joseph, is also a Jew. They would have been indistinguishable among many Jewish couples taking a male child to the Temple for his circumcision to fulfil the Mosaic Law which requires that the first male offspring to ‘open the womb’ should be offered to God. (Number 18:15)
Mary and Joseph must have been living a unique ‘on-the-one-hand-and-on-the-other’ experience of faith in God. Their deeply ingrained Jewish upbringing dominated their outlook and decisions. Simultaneously, they were grappling with the inexplicable reality of Mary being a virgin-mother and Joseph being divinely guided to take Mary home as his wife.
Believing Jews, today, continue to await the coming of the promised Messiah who will deliver their people from relentless oppression. That the Messiah would be born of a virgin and one of humble circumstance was not and is not a Jewish belief. In the Jewish mindset, the anticipated Messiah would come with physical, possibly military, power and prowess.
Only the megalomaniac King Herod, panicked by his insatiable need for self protection, paid attention to the role of Bethlehem in the fulfilling of the prophecies about the coming of the Messiah – Matt.2: 3-6:
“When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. They told him,
“In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet:
“‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.’”
Herod’s demonic response was the assassination of the region’s under two year old male children. (Matt 2:16) Before, throughout and beyond Jesus’ earthly life, Jews lived under threat of annihilation by the Roman Army of Occupation.
Other Jews, heading to The Temple on what we call the ‘Presentation Day’, would have seen Mary with her child and Joseph as just one more family, among many, fulfilling the Mosaic Law. Whatever their fears – soon to be realised in the flight into Egypt (Matt 2:13) – Mary and Joseph’s strong Jewish faith led them to follow the Mosaic Law of their people.
Predictions abound at births and Christenings. Most are harmless pleasantries. Possibly it was the same at eighth-day ‘Presentations’. Coming from distant Nazareth, Mary and Joseph would be invisible in a crowded Jerusalem. The Temple, like cathedrals in our day, would have been a focus for an eclectic group of ‘regulars’. Imagine Mary and Joseph, already on the alert, being taken aback at the approach of Simeon, well known in The Temple but a stranger to the couple from Nazareth. What was it that assured Joseph and Mary that all was well; that they could entrust the baby to this stranger’s arms?
“Simeon took him (Jesus) in his arms and praised God, saying: “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you may now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all nations: a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel.” Mary and Joseph marveled at what was said about Jesus. Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.” (Luke 2) Anna, the prophetess, followed hot on Simeon’s heels. She identified Jesus as the one to redeem Israel.
As incomprehensible as these words may have been at the time, Mary saved them all in her heart to nourish her Son in his formative years as well as sustain her and Joseph’s faith.
As, today, we commemorate the Feast of The Presentation, may we allow Mary and Joseph to bring us, Jesus’ baptismally adopted sisters and brothers, to re-consecrate us afresh to God, our loving Father.