December 28, 2014
The Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph
Gospel Lk 2:22-40
NOT OURS BUT YOURS
Today’s gospel reading concerns an ancient Jewish custom – the practice of bringing to the temple every male child who “opens the womb” to be consecrated to God. In the gospel, Luke describes how Mary and Joseph went to the temple to present to God their first-born child as demanded by the law. This gesture of bringing to the house of God their first-born male child is the Jewish tradition of recognizing that the infant primarily belongs to God, the source and giver of everything. It is their acknowledgment that the child is God’s gift to the parents and to the community.
And yet, a scan of the sacred scriptures reveals that it is not only the first male child that is offered to God. In their long and rich tradition, the Jews practically bring every “first” to the temple to be offered to God. The Old Testament texts are replete with directives to offer to God the first fruits of the ground, to consecrate to God the firstborn of herds, cattle, and flocks. Ancient custom even demands that the first dough, the first wine, the first oil, should be brought to the temple to be consecrated to God.
This strict adherence to the law of consecrating to God their “firsts” is the ancient Jewish way of instilling in their consciousness the primacy of God’s goodness. Behind this gesture lies a profound profession—everything is gift, and the act of presenting to God these gifts is the Jewish way of schooling their hearts to be grateful.
This sense of gratitude, coupled with a spirit of surrender is what comes to the fore in today’s reading. The Christian feast of the Presentation, which finds its roots in ancient Jewish custom, drives with force the point the primacy of gift as the core of the faith. In this day and age when tiny human hands cling to God’s gift for security, today’s reading is a somber reminder that everything in this world is rightly due to God’s goodness and generosity. It is a reminder that the source of one’s security is not to be found in the gifts but on the Giver from whom everything issues forth. In this sense, the presentation to the temple of the “firsts” is a going back to the fundamental truth that everything is God’s, which encourages humans to put their total trust in the God whose generosity can never be underestimated.
The philosopher Meister Eckhart once wrote: If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is “thank you” that will suffice. Today’s feast can be viewed likewise as a call to utter “thank you” to this God who has chosen to gift us with life and because He is not a mean giver, has given us everything including himself. As we prepare for the birth of Christ and for his second coming, may this feast of the Presentation lead us to this profound truth we inherited from the Jews—that relating with God begins with the recognition that we are only recipients of God’s goodness, thus our response is one of thanksgiving.
Fr. Gil C. Donayre, SJ
Grade School and High School Chaplain