by Emily | Catholic Poster Girl
“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, …and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, ‘a pair of turtledoves 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….Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother, Mary… ‘and a sword will pierce your own soul too.’” (Lk: 2: 22, 24, 25, 35, NRSV version)
The Presentation is a perplexing mystery. Not so much in what it is, because that’s fairly simple. After Jesus’ birth, his parents take him to the Temple to be presented to God. They are following the Jewish customs, even though Jesus is the Son of God, and has no need of presentation, or Mary of ritual purification, which she also received at this time. They are both perfect. But they also follow God’s law to the letter, and do the things he has commanded. They bring two turtle doves, the offering of the poor.
In the Temple, strange things happen. Two old people–one man and one woman–appear. They come to see the sight they have wanted to see for so long: the Son of God, the Messiah, in their midst.
“Now, Lord” cries Simeon, “you may let your servant go in peace; your word has been fulfilled. Mine eyes have seen the salvation of your people Israel.”
But he says something else, something troubling: A sword will pierce Mary’s heart. Sorrow will come upon this young mother, and this perfect child. Remember that Mary is a young woman, still a teenager. She doesn’t know the plan that is before her. She doesn’t know what God is going to ask of her, and of her Son. She might have an idea, because she is versed in Scripture; she knows what the prophecy of the Messiah says. But there’s not a road map there, there are few specifics. Most of it is couched in poetic, prophetic language.
Imagine you’re Mary, holding that little baby in your arms. Jesus is a little more than a month old. He’s asleep there, maybe sucking his thumb. His skin is soft and so perfect. There are ten little fingernails, and his hands are so tiny. You love this child more than your own life.
Your happiness is tainted by this man’s pronouncement. What can he mean? Joseph doesn’t understand, either. Certainly, Mary “pondered this in her heart,” as Luke tells us. And also, surely, she had faith. Faith that God, who had taken her this far, wouldn’t let her or her son fall. They had to trust in His plan–in the Divine plan–and keep moving forward.
An angel would warn Joseph to take them to the safety of Egypt, where they knew no one. They had to trust in God’s word. And a few years later, the same angel would call them back to their home country. Their lives, from the beginning, were not the calm, ordered ones of their neighbors and friends.
I like plans. I like to know what’s going to happen, and when. I have a certain amount of flexibility built into my life; I never know what part of my body is going to go on strike next and demand that I drop everything to fix it. So I make plans, while knowing that they could be changed because of events outside my control. To me, ER runs and unexpected tests are normal. A bit challenging, but normal.
I imagine Mary’s life was a bit like that. She never really knew what was going to happen next. Jesus wasn’t any other child. She was raising God in her house! I think that would present a formidable challenge to even the best parents. But she had faith that God had chosen her and Joseph for this task. She didn’t know what was ahead, but at the moment, she didn’t need to know.
Later in his life, the babe-in-arms would admonish us to not worry about tomorrow, but instead focus on today. I can imagine him learning this lesson from his parents, who knew that today often brought its own surprises. Mary knew to always place her faith in God, even when she didn’t quite understand what He was doing (as we’ll see in the next mystery).
In this new year, and during the Year of Faith, let’s ask Mary to help us do the same: to trust, even when we can’t see the way; to believe, even when we don’t know why.