Feast of the Presentation of the Lord
February 2, 2014
A scholar was conducting a study of an Amish village. The Amish are a branch of the Mennonite church who live in traditional rural villages far from industrialization and technology: no computers, televisions, refrigerators and telephones. In his study of the Amish village school, the researcher noticed that Amish children never screamed or yelled. That surprised him. So he decided to check it out with the schoolteacher. He told the teacher that he had not once heard an Amish child yell, and asked him why that was so. The teacher replied, “Well, have you ever heard an Amish parent yell?” The inference is clear: Like the parents, so the children!
We are all familiar with Mother’s Day and Father’s Day which we celebrate every year. Why is there not a Parents’ Day where we celebrate father and mother together as a couple? Today should be a good day to focus on both parents together, as we see both parents of Jesus, Joseph and Mary, together make the long journey to Jerusalem to present their firstborn child in the Temple as the law of God required. In the image of Joseph and Mary presenting Jesus in the Temple, we have a wonderful model of husband and wife united in practicing the faith and in raising their child in the faith.
We read that “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” (2:22) There is a confusion of detail here because, according to Jewish law, purification was for the mother alone while presentation was for the child. The story appears to be speaking of the two ceremonies as if they were one. Luke stresses the fact that they are doing it “as it is written in the law of the Lord” (verse 23). Joseph and Mary are presented as people who keep God’s laws. Moreover, they are presented as doing it together. It is easier to walk in the ways of God when husband and wife walk it together and encourage each other along the way. The author of Ecclesiastes had something like this in mind when he wrote: “Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work: If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up!” (Ecclesiastes 4:9-10). Husband and wife are companions in the journey of life, especially in the journey to our ultimate destination. We see this as we contemplate Joseph and Mary together in the Temple in obedience to God’s law.
The aspect of today’s celebration that some people have a problem with is this: why would the baby Jesus, who is not in a position to say yes or no, be initiated into the Jewish religion without his consent? This is a problem especially for those of us who question the value of infant baptism. Some Christians today feel that baptism has no value until a child reaches the age of reason and then is able to decide for oneself. But this is not the example that Mary and Joseph are giving us today. The concern about the value of infant baptism is a concern that is born out of the exaggerated individualism of the modern society. In the biblical era, people saw the whole family as one entity. The question of husband, wife and child belonging to different religions was unthinkable because religion was supposed to play a role in cementing the family unity. Thus we hear in Acts of the Apostles that when certain men and women were converted, they were baptised together with all their household (Acts 16:15, 31; 18:18).
If parents are supposed to provide their children with the basic necessities of life, what is more basic than one’s faith in God. No parents would think of allowing their children to decide whether they want to go to school or not, whether they want to learn the common language or not, whether they want to be a citizen of their country or not. We make these decisions for them, knowing fully well that when they grow up, they may decide to continue with what we gave them or abandon it. But only a foolish parent would refuse to send a child to school or teach a child their language and tradition in the name of respecting the child’s freedom to choose. Similarly parents have a responsibility to initiate their children into their faith traditions. This is what we see today in the feast of presentation as Joseph and Mary present Baby Jesus in the Jewish Temple.
As parents, we have the duty and privilege of raising our children in such a way that they grow up to become good and responsible citizens as well as committed children of God. The example of Joseph and Mary, and the example of the Amish community, show us that the best way to achieve this is not just by talking and shouting at them but by leading the way and showing them by the example of our own lives.
- Fr. Munachi Ezeogu, CSSP