Presenting ourselves as purified offerings - Sunday, February 2, 2020 Readings
Presenting ourselves as purified offerings
The Presentation of The Lord — Sunday, February 2, 2020 Readings:
Mal 3:1-4; Heb 2:14-18; Lk 2:22-40
“He will refine them like gold and silver and ... make the offering to the Lord” (Mal)
Note: Today, we not only celebrate the Presentation of Our Lord Jesus in the Temple, but also the ‘Day of
Consecrated Life’. Thus, our focus could be on the presenting of oneself to God, anew.
Three Scriptural Signposts:
1. Forty days after the celebration of the Nativity of our Lord, we celebrate the feast of the presentation of Jesus in the Temple. The liturgy suggests that we go in procession into the church carrying lighted candles—symbolizing not only our welcoming of Christ, who, today’s gospel tells us is “a light for revelation to the Gentiles” (Lk 2:32), but also as symbols of ourselves, the little lamps who seek to spread this Light of Christ to dispel the darkness that envelopes our world, today. Hence, the feast is also popularly called ‘Candlemas Day’. The ‘purification’ referred to in the gospel has its origins in the mandates of Mosaic Law that held a woman who gave birth to a child to be “ceremonially unclean” and in need of purification (see Lev 12:1-8). Ever faithful to the Law, and not being affluent enough to afford a sheep as offering, Mary and Joseph offer up simply “a pair of turtledoves or two pigeons” (Lev 12:8; Lk 2:24). This is one more tiresome journey that the young couple make to Jerusalem after the difficulties of Jesus’ birth at Bethlehem. It is also ironical that the purest virgin-mother, Mary, has to associate herself with a purificatory rite. Nonetheless, this can also be seen as prefiguration of Jesus’ baptism in the River Jordan in solidarity with the sinners who he has come to save. Be that as it may, the presence of God’s Spirit in this young couple of Nazareth is also seen in the lives and missions two other Spirit-filled, yet, aged prophets: Simeon and Anna.
2. The role of the Holy Spirit is central in the revelations of Simeon as is seen in the repeated mention of the Spirit’s role (vv.25,26,27) in Simeon’s prophesying that Jesus will be the Saviour not only of Israel but of all peoples and all nations. Simeon’s prophetic hymn— also known as the Nunc Dimittis, literally “now, you dismiss” (from Lk 2:29)—predicts not only Jesus’ future but also that of Mary, his mother. Simeon tells Mary, “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel ... and, a sword will pierce your own soul too.” This prediction about Mary, the mother of sorrows, will be fulfilled in her caring for and commitment to her son, Jesus, throughout his childhood, life, passion, crucifixion, death and burial. Anna too, a widow-prophetess of profound prayer and fasting, praises God for the forthcoming redemption that the Christ-child will bring.
3. The first reading from Prophet Malachi—that in Hebrew literally means ‘my messenger’— speaks of God’s ‘messenger’ or ‘angel’ or God Himself who will come to purify the priests who are guilty of many abuses and aberrations especially with regard to their offerings, sacrifices and covenantal customs. The corruption of the priesthood is mentioned in a preceding passage (see Mal 1:6–2:9), which calls for their purification. Therefore, two images of purification are presented: “like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap” (v.2).
When people would bring a lump of gold or silver to the refiner, he would use fire to burn off the dross and purify the precious metal. Likewise, people would bring their wool to the fuller who would use soap to clean the wool and remove the impurities so that what is left is pure wool. Christian Tradition finds the fulfillment of this prophesy in:  the sending of John the Baptist (the messenger);  the incarnation – Yahweh coming in the person of Christ to his temple; and  the Eucharist, identified by the early Church Fathers as the ‘perfect offering’. God becomes incarnate in Jesus so as to refine us to become pure offerings in God’s service.
Linking the Second Reading and the Psalm to the Theme:
• The second reading from the Letter to the Hebrews reiterates the theme of the incarnation: Christ “becomes completely like his brothers and sisters so that he could be a compassionate and trustworthy high priest.” Christ’s consecration is very different from the Levitical priesthood wherein the ‘consecrated’ priests are ‘set apart’ from the people. Christ’s priesthood makes him ‘a part’ of his people for two reasons: (a) to destroy death and save us from sin, (b) to identify fully with us, human beings, and offer us up to God.
• The responsorial psalm (24) is one of the entrance psalms composed for the processional entry of the king into the temple. This psalm fits in with today’s feast wherein we commemorate the entry of Jesus, King of kings, into the Temple.
Light from Catholic Tradition:
Three Reasons of St John Paul II for instituting the ‘Day for Consecrated Life’ in 1997: “First, it answers the intimate need to praise the Lord and thank him for the great gift of consecrated life, which enriches and gladdens the Christian community by the multiplicity of its charisms and by the edifying fruits of so many lives totally given to the cause of the kingdom. Second, this day is intended to promote a knowledge of and esteem for the consecrated life by the People of God. Third, consecrated persons are invited to celebrate the marvels that the Lord has accomplished in them, to discover by a more illumined faith the rays of divine beauty spread by the Spirit in their way of life, and to acquire a more vivid consciousness of their irreplaceable mission in the Church and in the world”.
A member of a Bible Study Group was puzzled about what a line from today’s first reading revealed about God, who “will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver” (Mal 3.3). So, she went to a silversmith’s shop and watched him work. He held a piece of silver over the fire and explained: “To refine silver, one must hold the silver where the flames are hottest so as to burn away all impurities.” The woman thought about God holding us in such a hot spot. She then asked the silversmith: “Must you sit in front of the fire the whole time while the silver is being refined?” The silversmith said, “Yes, and I keep my eyes on the silver the whole time, since if it is kept too long in the flames, it will be destroyed.” The woman then asked: “How do you know when the silver is fully refined?” He answered, “That’s easy! When I see my image in it!”
St Paul writes: “Present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to the God” (Rom 12:1). May the fire of the Holy Spirit burn out all traces of sin, selfishness and pride so that we may offer up ourselves anew for the service of God and for all people.