Year B Sunday after Christmas: Holy Family: Luke 2:22-40

2:21 When the eighth day came and the child was to be circumcised, they gave him
the name Jesus, the name the angel had given him before his conception.
2:22 And when the day came for them to be purified in keeping with the Law of Moses,
they took him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord
2:23 observing what is written in the Law of the Lord:
Every first-born male must be consecrated to the Lord
2:24 and also to offer in sacrifice, in accordance with what is prescribed
in the Law of the Lord, a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.
2:25 Now in Jerusalem there was a man named Simeon. He was an upright and devout
 man; he looked forward to the restoration of Israel and the Holy Spirit rested on him.
2:26 It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit
that he would not see death until he had set eyes on the Christ of the Lord.
2:27 Prompted by the Spirit he came to the Temple;
and when the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the Law required,
2:28 he took him into his arms and blessed God; and he said:
2:29 Now, Master, you are letting your servant go in peace as you promised;
2:30 for my eyes have seen the salvation
2:31 which you have made ready in the sight of the nations;
2:32 a light of revelation for the gentiles and glory for your people Israel.
2:33 As the child's father and mother
were wondering at the things that were being said about him,
2:34 Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, 'Look, he is destined
for the fall and for the rise of many in Israel, destined to be a sign that is opposed
2:35 and a sword will pierce your soul too --
so that the secret thoughts of many may be laid bare.'
2:36 There was a prophetess, too, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She
 was well on in years. Her days of girlhood over, she had been married for seven years
2:37 before becoming a widow. She was now eighty-four years old
and never left the Temple, serving God night and day with fasting and prayer.
2:38 She came up just at that moment and began to praise God;
and she spoke of the child to all who looked forward to the deliverance of Jerusalem.
2:39 When they had done everything the Law of the Lord required,
they went back to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth.
2:40 And as the child grew to maturity, he was filled with wisdom;
and God's favour was with him.

The second chapter of Luke is to be divided into three sections: 1. 2:1-20: Jesus’ birth; 2. 2:21-40: Jesus’ encounter with his people in the temple; 3. 2:41-52: Jesus’ stay in the house of his Father for three days. Today we read the central part. I started the reading with verse 21, because it is part of the second section. As we know, the Biblical authors like to use framings. This story can be framed as follows:

A. 02,21:  signal word: ‘the child’
B. 02,22-24: signal word: ’according to the Law of the Lord’
C. 02,25-38: encounter of the child in Jerusalem
D. 02,39:   signal word: ’according to the Law of the Lord’  
E. 02,40:  signal word: ‘the child

In verses 21-22 we hear the word ‘to be fulfilled’ twice, a favourite word of Luke (unfortunately not translated). Vs.21: ‘And when the eight days were fulfilled...’; vs.22: ‘And when the days of their purification were fulfilled...’ (translations Nicholas King). Luke used this same word before, in 1:15.[20].; 2:6! All we hear about the child Jesus is that the times are fulfilled. And Simeon and Anna are witnesses of that fulfilling. Fulfilling of what? In the last sentence Luke writes: ‘And the child grew up and became strong, (more and more) filled with wisdom; and the grace of God was upon him.

What may we expect from a child which is described in terms like these?

Picture Meditation


We are looking at a mosaic from the 5th century in the Santa Maria Maggiore, Rome, (photo taken by Fr Dries).

Left: two angels who accompany the Holy Virgin (in gold) with the child Jesus; it is residing upon her arm as a prince. Besides her: Joseph in tunica carrying two doves. Behind him: a third angel. They are welcomed by the prophetess Hannah in purple, the clothes of the highest social class. Besides her: the old Simeon. He is slightly bowing and has covered his hands with a towel to receive the child with all reverence. Behind him: an escort of priests and noble persons. They represent the people for which Jesus has come and about whom Simeon is talking. All in all a beautiful illustration of the feast of Jesus’ encounter with his people.

Remarkable is the bust of the goddess Rome above the entrance of the temple, symbol of the divine city of Rome. This bust was to be found above the entrance of the Civil Temple (Templum Urbis) in ancient Rome. The Bible story tells clearly that Christ-Messiah was welcomed into the temple of Jerusalem, dwelling place on earth of God of whom no image existed. Apparently the artist moves the scene from the temple in Jerusalem to the civil temple of Rome. Was Rome in his eyes the new Jerusalem since the Roman Imperium had received the Christian religion as the true religion, now less than a century ago?

Looking at this picture I realise that the poverty of the Biblical story has changed into an event of the higher social class. In other words: the artist makes visible what is hidden for the normal human eye. Inside out. And when I try to do the same with my own daily life and the people I have every day around me?

The same with the persons who accompany Mary and Joseph. They are pictured as angels.

Who were the people in my life who accompanied me? Am I able to recognize angels in them? And who knows how often I myself was an angel for others...?

I look at that beautiful gesture of Simeon, ready to receive with all the reverence of which he disposes. Picture of an attitude to life... When did I receive such a precious gift, a gift from heaven, though - maybe in the most simple appearance?

Feast of the Lord’s encounter with his people. Do I take part in the celebration?

by Fr Dries van den Akker SJ