Since the presentation of Jesus in the temple is the 4th Joyful Mystery of the Rosary, it is an event with which I’m very familiar and hence, I never thought much about what was behind the scripture verses. Whenever I meditate on this mystery during the Rosary I imagine Joseph and Mary holding Jesus high and ceremoniously offering him to God. I associate this act with consecrating Jesus to serve God and I likewise imagine holding my heart up and consecrating it to Jesus’ sacred heart and Mary’s immaculate heart. However, this week I learned a few more things about these verses during my Bible study, since this was Monday's feast (40 days after Jesus' birth).
The first thing I realized is that there are two things happening simultaneously. The passage starts with “When the time came for their purification.” The focus is on Jesus, but “their” means Jesus’ and Mary’s. The older manuscripts does have “their” (αὐτων), but later manuscripts changed it to “her”, as in fact only Mary needed to go through purification. According the Law of Moses, a woman was considered impure for 33 days (in some places 40 days is mentioned) after having a boy and 60 days after having a girl. She was then supposed to come to the temple with two animals to be offered for her purification (from the flow of blood) and as a sin offering to forgive her sins. There were various options for animals; Mary offered two turtledoves or two pigeons, which was appropriate for a poor woman (Leviticus 12:4-8). So the sacrificial offerings had nothing to do with Jesus, they were for Mary’s ceremony.
What about Jesus’ ceremony? According to the Law (Numbers 18:15-16) the Lord asked Moses to consecrate to Him the firstborn of all families in Israel (“whatever is the first to open the womb among the Israelites”). So Joseph and Mary offered Jesus to God as His, and immediately redeemed him by paying five shekels of silver (~$2.50, not mentioned in the passage, but was the Law and custom).
So what do we get from all of this?
- Jesus was raised in a very pious and religious family that strictly observed the Law and teachings. “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children.” (Galatians 4:4-5)
- Even though Mary was born without sin and did not commit sin, in humility she still goes through the ceremony and provides offerings for her purification and forgiveness of sins.
- No surprise here, but based on the offerings used, Mary and Joseph were poor. Christ the King became human in a very poor and “backwards” town (Nazareth) and lived among the poor.
- We learn about purity, humility, and observing the teachings of the Church.
Of course, taking Jesus to the temple allowed Simeon to see the Lord’s Messiah and beautifully praise God with these words: