The celebration of the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord can be said to be cultural, prophetic and spiritual in its essence. It is cultural because today marks the 40th day since the birth of Jesus and culturally required by the Old Testament Law, Joseph and Mary brought the infant Jesus to the temple to perform the required rite of purification. Historically (until 1969), this feast was also referred to as the Purification of Mary as culturally, Mary too had to be purified before she could be allowed back into the temple. It is prophetic because it is at the Temple that both Simeon and Anna will prophesise that the infant Jesus is the one who will deliver Jerusalem. And finally, it is spiritual because it brings to our minds and heart that Jesus is to be the light of the world that we need to follow… and this is manifested when traditionally candles are blessed during this mass and the faithful go in procession.
The focus of my reflection today is more of the spiritual essence of this celebration. The readings today point to Jesus as being the sign of God. But what kind of sign is Jesus going to be? In the gospel we hear Simeon saying that Jesus is going to be the ‘sign that is rejected’. Jesus was rejected by the leaders of his time simply because he was a ‘sign of contradiction’. When we read the like of Jesus in the gospel, we see that many times Jesus did things different from what was the cultural norm, e.g., eating with sinners, not condemning the adulterous woman that was brought to him for judgement, he healed (work) on the Sabbath, and the list goes on and on. But Jesus reserves the greatest sign of contradiction for the last. He is going to die on the cross – a death that was reserved for criminals, and through the cross he was going to be glorified.
At the time of Jesus, the cross was a sign of shame and of defeat. That is why we can totally understand why the disciples abandoned him while Jesus was hanging on the cross. For them it was all over until Jesus rose from the dead and they understood what Jesus often told them that the ‘Son of God will be glorified’.
In many ways, even today, Jesus is a sign of contradiction. The teachings of Christ in many ways today ‘go against’ the norm. We seem to live in a world where deception, dishonesty, corruption, and injustices are seen as ‘the norm’. Have you realised that many people don’t even blink an eye or even think twice to deceive another or to offer a bribe or be unjust to the domestic help at home. We have become accustomed to this way of life and this has far reaching consequences. Our conscience has become numb because many others are doing the same.
Pope Pius XII in 1949 said, “The sin of the century is the loss of the sense of sin.” Since sin has become the norm, it no longer appears to us as sin. This is far more frightening and has greater consequences in society. If there is one message that all of us can take home today, it is the fact that we are called to be the ‘sign of contradiction’ – in other words, sign of the Gospel that shines in the world today. We may be rejected as how Simeon told of Jesus but as later Jesus himself will tell his disciples:
‘What gain, then, is it for anyone to win the whole world and forfeit his life? And indeed what can anyone offer in exchange for his life? For if anyone in this sinful and adulterous generation is ashamed of me and of my words, the Son of man will also be ashamed of him when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.’ (Mark 8:36-38).
Let us walk the path of virtue and may the light of Christ that is within us never fail.