Simeon’s Prophecy to Jesus’ Baptism- Luke 2:33-3:22

19 Nov

Back in May, I wrote my latest article on a section of the Gospel of Luke. I noted that it may have been considered strange to have been focusing on the birth of Jesus and the presentation of the Christ child in the temple in the middle of spring.Now, six months later, we will celebrate the Solemnity of Christ the King a week from this Sunday. The following Sunday marks the beginning of Advent. It may be equally strange, then, that I would concentrate on a prophecy of Simeon about the Passion of Our Lord, along with the Holy Family’s return to Nazareth, the separation of Jesus from Mary and Joseph as the boy stayed behind in the temple, the proclamation of John the Baptist, and then the baptism of the Lord.

While I intended to write reflections on consecutive sections of Luke’s Gospel on this blog, the timing of each reflection with the liturgical year may be slightly off. Liturgically, we are about to prepare for Christmas, a celebration of the peace that comes with Christ’s birth. Prophecies such as Simeon’s about the suffering and death of the Lord hardly seem peaceful:

“This child is destined for the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed- and a sword will pierce your own soul, too.” (Luke 2:34-35)

As Jesus was to suffer the indignity of dying for our sins, Mary was to suffer deeply. There would be heartbreak as even those closest to the Lord would deny or betray Him. Since Jesus walked on earth, humankind has continued the same pattern of denial and betrayal. The world today seems no more at peace than when the Romans cruelly suppressed Israel. And sinners suffer under the power of sin as Christ suffered though He was sinless. Yet there is hope in the Resurrection. This hope is enough that the widow Anna, like many poor people today, praised God more joyously than do many rich people. (cf. Luke 2:36-38 )

Jesus came to a world undermined by sin not “to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” (John 3:17) The Lord brings peace to those who intimately welcome Him. But we may still freely will to destroy that relationship with God. Thus, sinful ways persist. Jesus’ timing in becoming one like us seems wrong. People are often not ready to accept Him.

According to many of His contemporaries, especially the well-educated teachers and writers, Jesus was a radical willing to bend the Jewish laws or to make His own laws. Yet in the Gospel of Luke we read of the Holy Family returning to Nazareth in Galilee, according to the existing legal requirement. There, “the child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.” (Luke 2:40) Jesus obeyed and honoured his parents, in keeping with the Commandment (cf. Deuteronomy 5:16), even though Mary and Joseph didn’t fully understand the Father’s plan for their child. (cf. Luke 2:48-51) They were deeply worried when Jesus stayed behind and taught in the temple, and Mary, relieved upon finding her son, scolded Him for causing so much trouble. Jesus responded: “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” (Luke 2:49)

As Mary searched for Jesus, who was apparently lost in Jerusalem, we search for God in times of distress. Yet God has already found us and calls us to Him by name. God is always there. This we should treasure in our hearts, as Mary treasured Christ and the words of the humble shepherds honouring the newborn Jesus (cf. Luke 2:19, 51), instead of searching endlessly.

The third chapter of Luke’s Gospel begins by listing the names of those in power in Jesus’ time: the Emperor Tiberius, Judea’s governor Pontius Pilate, and King Herod and his brother Philip, Jewish puppets of the Roman occupier. These names were feared. But one was to come who was greater than these. His coming was proclaimed by a “voice of one crying out in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.” (Luke 3:4)

“Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth; and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.” (Luke 3:5-6)

God’s salvation would come indeed, though its coming would cause division among even the most faithful. This was contrary to the notion of immediate peace upon the Messiah’s arrival. The Messiah’s peace will be given as people respond to the call of the ever-present God instead of searching aimlessly while following unrighteous ways. John the Baptist, who himself would cause be imprisoned for criticizing the adultery of Herod’s brother Philip (cf. Luke 3:19-20), was asked by those coming to be baptized: “What then should we do”? (Luke 3:7)

It is not enough to rely on the faith of ancestors. God can create people of greater faith out of stone. (cf. Luke 3:8 ) We are to renounce former ways that are unfit for union with God in heaven. Otherwise the trees that bear bad fruit will be cut down by the ax that already lies at their roots and destroyed. The righteous and the wicked will be separated as wheat from chaff by the Messiah (cf. Luke 3:9, 17). We must repent, share our clothing and food with those less fortunate, not hoard or extort money, and be content with what we are given. (cf. Luke 3:10-14)

Therefore, our mission in Christ’s name is difficult. It is impossible alone. We implore God’s saving grace in baptism. Though Jesus didn’t need to be baptized with water, since He baptizes us with the Holy Spirit (cf. Luke 3:16), he obediently accepted baptism by John in the Jordan River, according to the custom. In turn we are baptized and confirmed sacramentally by Christ through those He appoints. In Baptism we die to sin, sharing in the suffering and death of Christ so that we may share in His resurrection. In Confirmation the Holy Spirit’s seal is imparted, as the Father’s gift was given to the Son first:

“You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” (Luke 3:22)

Lord, as we hear during the Mass, “Make us an everlasting gift to you”- an offering with which you will be well pleased. Give us your grace so that we may be instruments of your love- Christ’s hands and feet on earth. Amen.

WRS

 

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