Fr Lino Moreira OSB
The author of the Letter to the Hebrews says that by faith Abraham and Sarah were given innumerable descendants (cf. Heb 11:11-12), and that equally by faith, Abraham, when put to the test, offered up his only son Isaac (cf. Heb 11:17). Bound up and placed on the altar of sacrifice, Isaac is clearly a prefiguration of Jesus Christ, and so the sacred author goes on to say that, figuratively speaking, Abraham – who was told not to raise his hand against the boy (cf. Gn 22:12) – received back his only son as someone whom God had raised from the dead (cf. Heb 11:19).
This story of the sacrifice of Isaac, narrated in chapter 22 of the Book of Genesis, is also the backdrop to the gospel we have just heard. St Luke says: ‘When the time came for their purification according to the Law of Moses, Mary and Joseph brought Jesus up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord’ (Lk 2:22). In this passage, the key word is ‘to present’, a translation of the Greek paristánai which also means ‘to offer’. What the Evangelist wants to emphasise is that, in the Temple at Jerusalem, Jesus was publicly handed over to God. He is both the Son of the Most High (cf. Lk 1:32) and the lamb spoken of by Abraham on the way to Mount Moriah (cf. Gn 22:12), and in the place where God meets his people, he was completely given over to his heavenly Father.
Hence the prophetic words uttered by Simeon who, along with Anna,
represents the faithful Israel: ‘Now, Lord, you are letting your servant go in peace according to your word, for my eyes have seen your salvation which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples; a light of revelation for the gentiles and glory for your people Israel’ (Lk 2:29-32). In these verses, sung daily by the Church at night prayer, Jesus is identified with the mysterious figure of the Suffering Servant whom the prophet Isaiah calls a light to the nations (Is 42:6; 49:6). Indeed, the child that Simeon took into his arms and blessed is the one chosen from all eternity to bring the light of God to the whole world. But in order to carry out his unique mission and see an offspring, the Servant has to give his life as a sin offering (cf. Is 53:10) – as the prophet Isaiah also points out. And so it is through the cross of his only-begotten Son
Jesus Christ, the Paschal Lamb, that God is going to fulfil the promise he made to Abraham: You shall be the ancestor of a multitude of nations (Gen 17:4).
When Jesus was greeted by Simeon and Anna as the Lord’s Messiah (cf. Lk 2:26), his parents were amazed at what was being said about him (cf. Lk 2:33). Like Abraham in the distant past, Mary and Joseph showed an unshakable faith in God by offering him their only son on the very spot where, according to tradition, the binding of Isaac had taken place. However, as members of the people of God, they too had to listen to the voice of the Lord speaking through the Law and the Prophets to understand God’s actions and how his designs are fulfilled in the course of time. In short, it was through their attention to the word of God that Mary and Joseph were able to discover who their son was, and how their faith in the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, as
well as their fidelity to the Law of Moses, had turned them into disciples and servants of the Messiah.
So Mary and Joseph teach us the dynamics of a true life of faith. If we
want to follow their son Jesus, the light of the world (cf. Jn 8:12), we need to put all our trust in the Lord and faithfully listen to his word, not as isolated individuals, but as members of the people of God who serve him day and night. Then the Risen Lord himself will explain to us the full meaning of what is written in the Law and the Prophets (cf. Lk 24:27), thereby making manifest the unique role each one of us is meant to play as a member of his family.