SIMEON IS OPEN TO THE LORD'S ACTION
Pope John Paul II
General Audience, December 11, 1996
1. In the episode of the Presentation of Jesus in the temple, St Luke emphasizes Jesus' messianic destiny. The immediate purpose of the Holy Family's journey from Bethlehem to Jerusalem according to the Lucan text was to fulfil the law: "And 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 (as it is written in the law of the Lord, 'Every male that opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord'), and to offer a sacrifice according to what is said in the law of the Lord, 'a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons'" (Lk 2:22-24).
With this act, Mary and Joseph show their intention of faithfully obeying God's will, rejecting every kind of privilege. Their coming to the temple in Jerusalem has the significance of a consecration to God in the place where he is present.
Obliged by her poverty to offer turtledoves or pigeons, Mary in fact gives the true Lamb who would redeem humanity, thus anticipating what was prefigured in the ritual offerings of the old law.
Simeon was inspired by the Holy Spirit
2. While the law required the purification after birth of the mother alone Luke speaks of the "time for their purification" (2:22), intending perhaps to indicate together the prescriptions involving both the mother and the firstborn Son.
The term "purification" can surprise us, because it is referred to a Mother who had been granted, by a singular grace, to be immaculate from the first moment of her existence, and to a Child who was totally holy. However, it must be remembered that it was not a question of purifying the conscience from some stain of sin, but only of reacquiring ritual purity which, according to the ideas of the time, may be harmed by the simple fact of birth without there being any form of guilt.
The Evangelist uses the occasion to stress the special link existing between Jesus, as "first-born" (Lk 2:7, 23) and God's holiness as well as to indicate the spirit of humble offering which motivated Mary and Joseph (cf. Lk 2:24). In fact, the "two turtledoves or two young pigeons" (Lk 12:8), was the offering of the poor.
3. In the temple, Joseph and Mary meet Simeon, "righteous and devout, looking for the consolation of Israel" (Lk 2:25).
The Lucan narrative says nothing of his past or of the service he carried out in the temple; it tells of a deeply religious man who nurtures great desires in his heart and awaits the Messiah, the consolation of Israel. In fact, "the Holy Spirit was upon him" and "it had been revealed to him ... that he should not see death before he had seen the Lord's Christ" (Lk 2:25-26). Simeon invites us to look at the merciful action of God who pours out the Spirit on his faithful to bring to fulfilment his mysterious project of love.
Simeon, a man who is open to God's action, "inspired by the Spirit" (Lk 2:27), goes to the temple where he meets Jesus, Joseph and Mary. Taking the Child in his arms, he blesses God and says "Lord, now let your servant depart in peace, according to your word (Lk 2:29).
Simeon uses an Old Testament phrase to express the joy he experiences on meeting the Messiah and feels that the purpose of his life has been fulfilled; he can therefore ask the Most High to let him depart in peace to the next world.
Joseph and Mary present Saviour of all mankind
In the episode of the Presentation we can glimpse the meeting of Israel's hope with the Messiah. We can also see in it a prophetic sign of man's encounter with Christ. The Holy Spirit makes it possible by awakening in the human heart the desire for this salvific meeting and by bringing it about.
Nor can we neglect the role of Mary who gives the Child to the holy old man Simeon. By divine will, it is the Mother who gives Jesus to mankind.
4. In revealing the Saviour's future Simeon refers to the prophecy of the "Servant" sent to the chosen people and to the nations. To him the Lord says, "I have taken you by the hand and kept you, I have given you as a covenant to the people, a light to the nations" (Is 42:6). And again: "It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the preserved of Israel; I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth" (Is 49:6).
In his canticle, Simeon reverses the perspective and puts the stress on the universality of Jesus' mission: "For my eyes have seen your salvation which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory for your people Israel" (Lk 2:30-32).
How can we fail to marvel at these words? "And his father and mother marveled at what was said about him" (Lk 2:33). But this experience enabled Joseph and Mary to understand more clearly the importance of their act of offering: in the temple of Jerusalem they present the One who, being the glory of his people, is also the salvation of all mankind.
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