Saturday, February 2, 2013

Presentation of the Lord in the Temple

The section of Luke’s gospel that we just heard verbally brings his birth narrative to a close. His account of the birth of Jesus began with Mary and Joseph journeying from Nazareth to Bethlehem. Appropriately the narrative ends with them returning to Nazareth.

Tradition portrays the evangelist Luke as an artist, a painter. In a way, his gospel can be viewed as a portrait of Jesus, a verbal portrait that gradually becomes clearer and more distinct. It is a portrait of Jesus as the true world leader: the Lord, the Messiah, the Liberator, the true Son of God, the real king of the world instead of Caesar Augustus. And the colors Luke uses are not limited to gold leaf and bright hues. He also includes somber tones. The more he fills in the picture, the more we realize that this really is a different sort of kingdom that Jesus is initiating. It is truly the kingdom that God had promised Israel’s prophets and patriarchs. But, not for the last time in his gospel, Luke is warning us that the kingdom Jesus is inaugurating does not look like what people had expected. And this is so even at these early stages of his portrait-story. Mary and Joseph already have a clear sense that God’s presence is manifested in the most extraordinary, unlikely, unexpected places, such as dreams, shepherds’ fields and stables.
As Luke’s picture-story unfolds throughout his gospel, Mary will look on in dismay as her son is rejected by the very people he had come to rescue. Finally, the child who Simeon says is “destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel,” himself passes through death and into resurrection. Throughout his work, Luke wants to draw people of every age and stage of life into the drama. There’s something here for everyone.

Brothers and sisters, no matter who we are or where we are on life’s journey, the story of Jesus, from the feeding trough in Bethlehem to the empty tomb and beyond is meant to become our story, our vocation with all the surprising, and even, at times, unwanted twists and turns that any good story contains.

Icon of Saint Luke painting the Virgin. Reflections by  Father Abbot Damian for this morning's Mass for the Feast.