Today is the Feast of the Presentation, which celebrates when Jesus was brought to the temple to be dedicated to the Lord. His mother and Joseph act in accordance with the Levitical practices of bringing a first born son and offering either a lamb and turtledove (if wealthy) or pair of turtledoves (if poor). We see from the offering of doves that Mary and Joseph are poor, not rich. The sacrificial aspect of the Jewish feast extends back and resonates with Passover, when God showed his protection of the first born sons of Israel and showed that he would bring them into freedom. When Mary and Joseph bring Jesus to the temple, we are reminded that God is watching over Jesus and his family, and that Jesus is a significant part of this larger narrative of God bringing people from oppression into freedom. Simeon, though, notes that this particular child, Jesus, is “a light of revelation” but also designed to bring “contradiction” to Israel. Anna, a woman who stays in the temple to remain always in the presence of the Lord, gives thanks for this child and speaks about him to others. Thus, Jesus is presented to us, the readers of the Gospel, as one who both enlightens and divides the community. For example, many of the Pharisees will object to his loving treatment of sinners, tax collectors, prostitutes, and his more flexible interpretation of the law. Yet Jesus’s followers are enlightened by his Love.
We can see that the process of salvation is complex and not as neat as the well ordered prescriptions of the sacrifice itself. Mary’s own heart will be pierced (more literally, the Greek says her psyche, or soul, will be pierced!). Luke’s language there points to both a division in the community that will eventually happen in response to Jesus, when some accept and some reject him, and to Mary’s personal experience. This same child who is to be greatly celebrated because he is the world’s salvation will also die a death that Mary will witness and experience with terrible sorrow. Mary’s soul will be pierced in a way that mirrors the piercing of her son on the cross. Yet she will stand in faith beneath that cross, perhaps remembering all that was promised to her early on in Jesus’s life.
The complexity of what Jesus’s life will mean and how salvation plays out through his life is a good reminder that our own process of salvation also plays out in ways that are complicated and not easily arranged in linear fashion or put neatly into a box. Our own narratives of life with the Lord are a lot more winding, and feature both joys and sorrows, divisions and reconciliations, moments where we know God’s loving protection and ones where our very hearts are pierced and we can only stand in faith along with Mary. Through the course of our lives, our own loves are also being purified, so that they are more centered on the Lord. As we grow in faith and love of God, we are more and more willing to love in a way that includes both the sacrifice and sorrow, and the even greater joy of always remaining in the presence of the Lord.