During a time of severe famine, the Israelites migrated from the land God had promised to Abraham and his descendants to the land of Egypt. At first, they were welcomed, but as time passed, they were tolerated, and then despised and subjugated to burdensome labor and cruel treatment by the Egyptians.
God always remembered His promise that Abraham’s descendants would live in a land where they could freely and wholeheartedly love, worship, and serve Him.
By mighty signs God forced the Egyptians to allow the Israelites to return to the land God had promised them.
The last of these signs was when the Angel of Death passed through the land of Egypt during the night taking the life of the firstborn male of every family. However, God promised the Israelites that, if they marked the doorposts and lintels of their homes with the blood of a sacrificial lamb, the Angel of Death would pass by their homes.
The Israelites were filled with gratitude that God was enabling them to pass over from slavery to freedom. They were also filled with gratitude that God had spared their firstborn sons.
As the Israelites journeyed back to the promised land, God formed a binding Covenant with them. This Covenant included the recognition that every firstborn son belonged to the Lord. Through the obligatory Rite of Redemption, these sons needed to be either consecrated to the service of the Lord or redeemed back from the Lord through an offering for service to their family.
Mary and Joseph went to the Temple in Jerusalem 40 days after the birth of Jesus to perform the Rite of Purification for Mary and to consecrate Jesus for service to the Lord in the Rite of Redemption (Luke 2:22-40). On Feb. 2 we celebrate the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord, 40 days after we celebrate His birth.
Mary and Joseph clearly understood these rites were required by religious law, but they also clearly understood the reasons behind the rites, reasons that did not apply to their case.
Mary had conceived Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit. While she had given birth, she was still a virgin. She had no need to be purified.
Through the name and titles bestowed on the child by the angel Gabriel, Mary understood He was the Son of God, the Messiah who brings salvation (Luke 1:26-38). Uniquely consecrated to the Lord before He is conceived, Jesus is the one who brings us redemption.
These truths were also revealed to Joseph by an angel (Matthew 1:18-25).
So why do Mary and Joseph go to the Temple to celebrate the Rite of Purification for Mary and to consecrate Jesus to the Lord in the Rite of Redemption? Were they blindly following the dictates of religious laws? Certainly not!
Mary and Joseph were faithful and devout servants of the Lord. They understood Jesus’ role in God the Father’s plan of Salvation. They also understood the roles given them by God the Father to support Jesus’ work of redemption. By the Presentation of the Lord, Mary and Joseph committed themselves to their roles in the unfolding of God’s plan of Salvation.
We have obligations and responsibilities that flow from our Baptism. We also have a role in God’s plan of Salvation. We receive the gift of Salvation and are given a role in the work of redemption.
May we follow Mary and Joseph’s example, not looking for reasons to exempt ourselves from our religious duties, not being minimalists in our discipleship, but wholeheartedly embracing the role we have in Jesus’ work of redemption.
By Father Jerome Tauber, chaplain of St. Luke’s Hospital – Bethlehem Campus.