When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the law of the Lord, ‘Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord’), and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, ‘a pair of turtle-doves or two young pigeons.’
Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah.
Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying,
‘Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace,
according to your word;
for my eyes have seen your salvation,
which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
a light for revelation to the Gentiles
and for glory to your people Israel.’
And the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, ‘This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.’
There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, having lived with her husband for seven years after her marriage, then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshipped there with fasting and prayer night and day. At that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.
When they had finished everything required by the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favour of God was upon him.– Luke 2:22-40 NRSV
The church calendar says that today is the Feast of the Presentation. The Eucharistic reading speaks of Jesus being presented in the temple as a first-born son, one who by virtue of his birth status was to be dedicated to God. The trip to the temple and the offerings were to acknowledge this and to offer a sacrifice for redemption.
“Presentation” is a word with a lot of meanings. Someone is presented at their baptism as the newest member of the Body of Christ, a new couple are presented as “Mr. and Mrs.” following exchange of their wedding vows, people are presented as the winner of an award or after having achieved a diploma, degree, ordination or consecration. Young daughters of high society families used to be presented either at court or at a debutante ball that marked their entrance into society as an adult and their availability for marriage, while some specific birthdays are still marked with ceremony and/or an elaborate party, like a quinceañera or a bar or bat mitzvah that mark their acceptance as adults. In Jewish history, the firstborn son was special, like the firstborn males of flocks and herds; God had claimed them as God’s own(see Num. 3:13). This was in memory of the deaths of the firstborn in Egypt and encompassed both humans and animals. With some exceptions for certain groups such as the Levites (Kohanim), each firstborn male child was to be presented to God on the thirty-first day of life, or as soon as possible after that day, and redeemed by payment of five shekels, a total weight of about 100 grams of silver, about $100 in today’s US currency. Even if each shekel had the value then of $5, a redemption price of five shekels would equal about half a year’s wages for an average workman. In short, it was a high price, but then, offerings were and are supposed to be about giving something of great value, and what could be of more value than the life of a child?
Jesus’ presentation in the temple, like those of the bar/bat mitzvah, ordination, baptism, consecration, award or marriage, marked a change, usually of status. A little oil, some words, a laying on of hands and one changes from a lay person to a deacon. A few exchanged promises and two single people become a married couple. In the church of my childhood, a short walk up the aisle, answers to a few questions, and approval of the congregation meant that I was approved for baptism and inclusion among the “saved.” Years of study, work and examination, a walk across a stage, a handshake and a person can claim the title of doctor and officially serve as a healer, educator in the higher educational institutions or administrator. A 13-year-old studies and on a given day, is called up to read from the Torah and becomes an adult in the eyes of the congregation. Changes like these almost always mean the trading of something valuable – time, money, effort – in order to earn something that will improve their lives or their world. Jesus’ presentation signified his redemption by his family, his place in the family inheritance and his status, none of which he really earned except by being the firstborn son of his mother through natural childbirth, not a Cesarean one. Even though Jesus was God’s son and not Joseph’s biological child, Joseph redeemed him and made him his heir with all the rights and responsibilities that entailed in those days. But just as Jacob outfoxed his older brother Esau for his birthright, those rights and responsibilities along with the blessing that transferred them to another person could be managed, by fair means or foul. Jesus must have done something to transfer that responsibility of his birthright to whoever was next in line because he didn’t stay home to look after the family and the family business but went about doing the work of God’s firstborn son, a higher birthright.
So what am I to learn from this reading? What presentation or redemption do I have to make or undergo in order to become what I want, need or am supposed to be? I’ve been baptized, confirmed, married, divorced, and completed high school and four years of college. I’ve studied and worked to learn to do both my day job and my avocation as a mentor in a program that continues to educate and inspire me. Perhaps what is required of me is to simply present myself to God and wait to see what comes. I’ve already been redeemed, so whatever comes next has to be reflective of that status and a change, growth perhaps, into one who really reflects that status of redeemed and changed as a result of that redemption.
I guess what it comes down to is to use that time-honored biblical response, “Here I am,” then to keep my eyes and ears open. This earth and its people are part of my birthright and part of my job is to care for them. That should keep me busy for the remainder of my lifetime if I work at it. After all, I will have one more presentation to make, one more great status change, and I want that one to be my final redemption. The consequences if I fail might make me long for the comparable coolness of the summers in this desert in which I live.
So okay, “Here I am.”