The Presentation in Luke’s Gospel (Lk 2:22-38)
Lectio: What the Word says in itself
Luke’s narrative of the presentation of Jesus shows Mary and Joseph, obedient to the demands of Jewish religious custom, offering of a ‘pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons’ – the offering of the poor. In the Temple they encounter two people of the Spirit, Simeon and Anna, who represent faithful Israelites waiting for the promises of God to be fulfilled. A canticle is placed on the lips of Simeon, who declares Jesus to be a ‘light to enlighten the pagans and the glory of your people Israel.’
Jesus’ identification as a light to the pagans looks ahead to his opening exchange in the synagogue of Nazareth, where he identifies himself with two prophets, Elijah and Elisha, who were given a mission to pagans. It is as an observant Jew that Jesus will be a light to the pagans, because Israel’s calling was to be a light to the pagans, and her ‘glory’ consists in being such a light.
Simeon then addresses Mary, in a prophetic oracle through which Luke adverts to the hostile reception that the gospel will receive. Mary’s child will be a sign that will be opposed. Although he is sent for the glory of Israel, Jesus’ broad vision of God’s purpose, embracing even pagans, will generate much opposition. Again, Luke points ahead to the opening scene in the synagogue of Nazareth, where Jesus is rejected by his townspeople for identifying with two prophets who ministered outside Israel. Simeon announces that the hostility to Jesus will impact on Mary in a particular way: ‘A sword will pierce your own soul too.’ She will have to surrender her Son to his ‘Father’s business’ (Lk 2:49) of proclaiming God’s hospitable love to all of humanity, even though it will cost him no less than everything.
Meditatio: What the Word says to me/us
The prayer of Simeon is the prayer of a man who has finally set his eyes on the Saviour for whom he had been waiting. It is the prayer of a truly contented person. We tend to associate this level of contentment with the life of heaven. We look forward to that eternal moment when we will see the Lord face to face and all our deepest longings are satisfied. Simeon anticipated this heavenly quality of contentment in the Temple of Jerusalem as he held the child Jesus in his arms, ‘My eyes have seen your salvation.’ His seeing came close to that seeing face to face which awaits us in eternity. We will never have the opportunity of holding the child Jesus in our arms, but on our journey of faith there are times when we too see the Lord clearly with the eyes of faith. At such moments, fleeting as they may be, we sense that the deepest hunger and thirst of our heart is being satisfied. We cannot produce such experiences. They come to us as a gift from the Lord. Simeon came to the Temple at the prompting of the Spirit. The Spirit will lead us too to such moments of grace, if we are as open to the prompting of the Holy Spirit as Simeon was.
Oratio: What the Word leads me/us to say
Simeon’s prayer can inspire our own. His prayer was a response to an experience of the light of God’s presence. You might recall a time when the light of the Lord’s presence touched you in some significant way and, in response, enter into a quiet prayer of praise and thanksgiving. The opening line of Simeon’s prayer expresses a sense of surrender to God’s desire for his life: ‘Now, Master, you can let your servant go in peace.’ It is a version of Mary’s prayer: ‘let it be with me according to your word.’ You might make your own prayer of surrender to the Lord’s desire for your life.
Contemplatio: Being transformed by the Word
Simeon took Jesus in his arms and blessed God. In stillness, allow yourself to take the Lord into your heart. Allow the transforming light of his loving presence to shine in your heart, scattering any darkness of spirit.
Actio: Putting the Word into practice
When Mary and Joseph brought the child Jesus into the Temple, they brought the light of God’s loving presence to one who had been earnestly seeking it. Call to mind one concrete way you are being called to bring the light of God’s loving presence to someone who is waiting for it today.
Fr Martin Hogan is PP of St John the Baptist Church, Clontarf, Dublin, and author of The Word of God is Living and Active: Reflections on the weekday readings for the liturgical year 2019-2020
(Dublin: Messenger Publications, 2019). See https://frmartinshomiliesandreflections.tumblr.com/