Homily – February 2, 2014

A Person of the Law

A couple of weeks ago we celebrated the Baptism of Jesus. We heard of the Holy Spirit descending on him in the form of a dove and the mysterious voice from heaven testifying ‘this is my son the beloved in whom I am well pleased.’

Today we celebrate another feast that recalls another event in the infancy of Jesus. By the Law of Moses every first born son was to be dedicated to God. Forty days, days required by the Law for the purification of a mother after the birth of a child, Mary and Joseph brought Jesus to the temple to present or offer him to the Lord. Then they made the offering the poor make on this occasion, two pigeons as was stated in the Law of Moses.

It was a simple ceremony but it was also a time for the parents and extended family to celebrate the new life that had come into their lives. In a way it would be something like our baptism as infants. At baptisms the child is always the center of attention. He or she wears a special baptismal dress, maybe one used in the family for years. After the baptism pictures are taken and there is a party.

The presentation of Jesus in the temple was a happy occasion, a serious occasion as Jesus, the first born, was dedicated to God. Mary and Joseph were people of the law as was Jesus – born under the law to redeem those who were under the law. As he grew up Jesus was a man of the law even though his enemies accused him breaking the law, especially the law of the Sabbath. In his teachings and by the way he lived Jesus opposed the flawed and hollow ways the religious leaders and authorities used the law to control and oppress the lives of the ordinary men and women who looked to them for guidance.

Simeon was that old stranger who ruined the happy event of Jesus’ dedication to God by telling his proud mother that her child was destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel a sign to be opposed so that the thoughts of many will be revealed and Mary too would suffer because of her child.

We all know what happened to Jesus as the result of his teaching and his exposing the shallowness of the religious authorities of his day especially in their observance of the law. He was betrayed by one of his own, arrested, endured a phoney trial, made a fool of by his guards, crowned with thorns, whipped and marched through the streets to his place of execution and endured the painful and humiliating death of crucifixion. All this because he was a man of the law; “you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and all you mind and all your strength.” We know too that the Father raised Jesus from the dead.

We know that the night before Jesus died while sharing his last meal with those he loved Jesus said, ‘a new commandment, a new law, I give you that you love one another as I have loved you.’ We all know from life experience that this is a difficult law to live; to love as we’ve been loved. We rub shoulders with so many people each day; spouses, children, parents, fellow workers, strangers, people we like, people who rub us wrong, people who annoy us and are in our face. And we try to live this new, difficult law and as I’ve said so often, sometimes we win and sometimes we lose but always we keep trying.

Each day we try to overcome our prejudices and preconceived ideas about a person’s race or religion, social background or life style. We know it is difficult to see beyond these issues and acknowledge the human dignity and worth of the stranger, the ‘different’ as one loved by God the same as we are, and a person for whom Christ died as he died for us.

So we pray for ourselves and for each other that we will always be men and women of the law. We try as best we can to live the great law of love.