Commentary to the FEAST OF THE HOLY FAMILY – Year B
FEAST OF THE HOLY FAMILY – Year B
THE TEXT BELOW IS THE TRANSCRIPTION OF THE VIDEO COMMENTARY
BY FR. FERNANDO ARMELLINI
“When the days were completed for their purification according to the law of Moses, they took him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord, just as it is written in the law of the Lord, ‘Every male that opens the womb shall be consecrated to the Lord,’ and to offer the sacrifice of ‘a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons,’ in accordance with the dictate in the law of the Lord.”
A good Sunday to everyone.
When a child was born in Israel, two rites established by tradition had to be performed. The first was the purification of the woman who had been in labor. It was a legacy of ancient fears related to the flow of blood. In all the towns of the Ancient Middle East blood flow was thought to be linked to negativity, from which it was necessary to be immunized fulfilling certain rites. Therefore, it is not surprising that even in Israel these provisions existed.
The second rite refers to the rescue of the eldest son, which was a provision of the Torah that said that all the firstborn of the animals had to be offered to the Lord as a sign that they were his gift. Naturally they couldn't be children to be sacrificed; they had to be redeemed in two ways: the rich offered a lamb and the poor, instead, a pair of doves. These were the two rites referred to by the evangelist Luke.
We are interested in the message that the sacred author wants to give us. Let's try to get it. The first message is found in the insistence with which the evangelist recalls the fidelity of Mary and Joseph to the prescriptions of the Torah. Five times he says that they carry out these rites because the law of the Lord imposed it.
The first message we take for our families: the reference point of this couple who begins their life together is the Torah, the Word of God. When they have to make decisions or make a choice, they are inspired by the Word of God. They are at the beginning of their life as a couple and they show that they are in tune with the choices they have to make. This is an important message for our families today, for our couples. At certain times, they may even have to make courageous decisions. What will be the reference point? The advice of friends? They must be taken into account, but then in the end, what decides the choice is the Word of God. This is the first message.
The second: They offer the child to the Lord. And here, too, there is an important message for our families. When a child comes into the family it is tempting to think that the child belongs to the parents, no: the child belongs to God; It is given to the parents; it is entrusted to them to put themselves at the service of the project that God has for that child. God knows the name, knows the deep identity of the child and the child is given to this couple.
What should parents do? They must offer him to the Lord, give him for the project that God has for that child; and that's why parents should ask themselves what is it that God wants from that child, what mission is he called to carry out in the world. And parents must put themselves at the service of the Lord's design. Only then will the life of your child be fulfilled. When they fulfill the dreams of God and not their own dreams in the child, then the child will be really happy because he will be in his place; and educating the child in the faith is much more than teaching religious practices. It means instilling in the hearts of the children the design that God has for them. This is the meaning of offering your child to the Lord, and each Christian couple must perform this not as a rite but offer their child to the Lord for His project.
The third message: Parents offer a pair of pigeons. The evangelist wants to emphasize this because they are a poor couple. From the beginning Jesus is in the midst of the poor. He did not come in the condition of rulers, of the greats of this world, but in the family of the poorest.
And then Simeon comes to meet this couple. Simeon is an old man who, as we will be told, has been waiting for this moment all his life:
“Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon. This man was righteous and devout, awaiting the consolation of Israel, and the holy Spirit was upon him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he should not see death before he had seen the Messiah of the Lord. Prompted by the Spirit, he came in into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus to perform the custom of the law in regard to him, he took the infant into his arms and blessed God, saying: “Now, Master, you may let your servant go in peace, according to your Word, for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you prepared in sight of all the peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and glory for your people Israel.”
The rite that Joseph and Mary were about to perform is abruptly interrupted by the apparition of two characters that Luke wants to draw our attention to. The first is Simeon, a person about whom the apocrypha also spoke. The Proto-Gospel of James presents him as a high priest, very old, 112 years old.
But in reality, Simeon was not linked to the rite of the temple, nor to the sacrifices; he was not a priest, he was a prophet. His old age indicates Israel's long wait for the fulfilment of the promises that God had made to his people. Now we will see the two characters - Simeon first and then Anna.
When Mary and Joseph go to the temple, it was full of pilgrims, lots of people; there were priests, Levites and yet when the long-waited Messiah arrives only two people are able to
recognize him. How is it that only Simeon and Anna recognize in that child the Messiah of God? I would say, that is a bit what happens today. The Messiah of God continually reaches the world, with His Word, with His gospel. How many are able to recognize in that Word the message from heaven, the Messiah of God who comes to save our life, to get our life out of a sinful condition, of non-realization of what is really human and to introduce ourselves to the authentic life, to the life of freedom?
How did only those two recognized the Messiah? There are characteristics in these two persons that allowed them to see what others have not seen. We should also do an examination of our life to see if these characteristics are fulfilled in us; these attributes that these two people have because if we do not have them we will not be able to recognize the Messiah in the Word, in the gospel, therefore, in the Messiah who is presented to us today, at every moment, we will not be able to recognize the one sent from heaven, the awaited one.
Let us now see these characteristics starting from those that the evangelist presents to us in Simeon.
First characteristic: he is a just and pious man. Actually, two characteristics, two adjectives. They mean that he is a sincere and loyal man; a man with a pure heart. To recognize God's Messiah you have to be a person who see what others do not see and to have this vision you must have a pure heart. Jesus will say this later in his beatitudes: ‘Blessed are the pure in heart because they will see the invisible, they will see God.' If you do not have purity of heart you cannot grasp in that Word of the gospel that today you hear, the call of God; if you are attached to idols ... you maybe frequenting to Church, but your mind and your heart are distracted in another direction, you will not recognize in that Word, the call you receive from heaven.
Then he is godly. Ε?λαβ?ς -- ‘Eulabes’ in Greek means someone who is careful not to get lost on the way. The first characteristic that we have seen of this person is also a call for our life, to realize the reasons why we do not recognize the coming of the Lord in our life through His Word.
Second characteristic: He was one who awaited the liberation of Israel; is one who knows how to wait, continues to believe even in difficult times. While many are turning away from the Lord, he keeps believing in the Word of God. Exactly what happens even today. We see many people who walk away, who abandon religious practices, who stop believing, they lose hope. When they listen to the Lord who enters their life, they do not know how to recognize him; they have lost hope, they have turned to other goals, other dreams in their life.
Third characteristic: He is a person whose counsellor is the Spirit of the Lord. The Spirit speaks in our hearts when we are pure in heart. Three times in this passage we are reminded that Simeon is always attentive to what the Spirit suggests to him. Spirit is the one who gives you suggestions and these suggestions come from the Holy Spirit. 'Holy' means different from reasoning, from the criteria of this world.
Fourth characteristic: He is a man who looks forward. The Spirit makes you look to the future, to hope. You look to the past, but without regret if you are enlightened and guided by the Spirit. I would also say that Simeon teaches us to grow old; we see that this person does not want to become young again, he has completed his life, he does not complain about the evil he sees around him, he knows that man is made that way. Some are more sensitive and some are less sensitive to the voice of the Lord. He does not insult, he does not complain, he does not blame the world for his old age; he knows that he is no longer young, but he does
not blame anyone for his ailments. He is happy because he has given meaning to his life and his life had meaning because he has always been guided by the suggestions of the Spirit. Another characteristic: Simeon is the one who welcomes the future, welcomes Jesus in his arms; and to understand this gesture of Simeon it must be taken into account that he represents the people of Israel who are faithful to the Word of God, to the promises; he believes in the loyalty of the Lord to His given Word; he is part of the history of this people of Israel who have been waiting for the fulfilment of the Lord's promises. The gesture is very significant: He welcomes the future in his arms. Within the people of Israel there have been those who have not welcomed this novelty in their arms; they have continued to uphold their traditions, their own convictions. Simeon, no. He welcomed the future. This is an important message for us. We too come from many religious traditions that had their meaning and we know that for not many decades this word of God has entered the church that before had been quite on the side-lines. This is the novelty, who like Simeon open their hearts to receive in the arms the novelty that is the gospel of God; this word that is the benchmark for all the choices of our life.
Then we have the song of Simeon. He sings, blesses God who gave meaning to his whole life: “Now, Master, you may let your servant go in peace.” He blesses God who has given meaning to his life. It is the song that we recite and sing at the end of our day: “Now, Master, you may let your servant go in peace.” The original text says 'go in peace,' he is not afraid of death because it is death, after all, that gives meaning to our life; death is freeing us from the bonds of this condition that has so many limits, so many weaknesses. Simeon, who truly lived fully always guided by the Spirit, now says to the Lord: ‘Now I have finished my life, I am happy, I am happy with my life, I do not regret it, now untie me so that your servant can go towards peace.' He says: ‘your servant.’
In the Bible ‘servant’ is an honorary title and the greatest of honorific titles. It indicates the one who has put his whole existence at the service of the plan that God had for his life. And he concludes by saying "for my eyes can be closed because they have seen your salvation." It is like Moses when on Mount Nebo he saw the future of his people: "Now I can close my eyes in peace." And I would say that these elders teach us to live; we have all known people to whom retirement even hastened death because they did not understand the meaning of their entire existence.
For the elderly of the Bible, retirement is death; death is retirement. You work, you give everything you can give until the last moment because this is the authentic vision of human life. All of one's life must be spent in the service of the mission for which God has sent us into the world.
The parents of Jesus are surprised by this announcement of universal salvation that Simeon pronounces on that child. This is when Simeon directs the prophecy of mysterious sword to his mother. Let's hear it:
“The child’s father and mother were amazed at what was said about him; and Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, ‘Behold, this child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted and a sword will pierce your own soul, so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.’”
We all know the traditional interpretation of this prophecy of a sword that will pierce the soul of the mother of Jesus. Let us put aside the interpretation of the seven swords that pierce the heart of Mary. The sword, in both the Old and New Testaments, is a symbolic image of
the efficacy of God's word when it penetrates the heart of the person, it no longer leaves him alone. It is like a double-edged sword. Also here this word indicates that it is Jesus himself who came into the world and it is a word that penetrates into the hearts of people. Jesus will say: 'I did not come to bring peace, my word is like a sword that divides, provokes decisions’ and sometimes we face even dramatic choices when we hear this word.
I would say that there are two interpretations of this sword, one is that of the symbolic image of the mother. The mother of the Messiah is Israel; and we see that when the sword of this word has arrived, which is the gospel, a division is created in Israel; some have accepted this word while others objected it. Here is the division, a very painful division. We remember how much Paul suffered due to the non-acceptance of the Messiah of God by all his people; they wanted to remain tied to their convictions, to their expectations and they did not know how to recognize the Messiah of God; they wanted their messiah. Here is the division of this people; and therefore, this word that has reached the world was like a sword that divided this people. This is the first interpretation.
A second interpretation concerns, instead, Mary herself. It's an individual interpretation and this interpretation is now increasingly accepted by biblical scholars as well. Mary has experienced in herself, a division in her own soul, in her journey of faith; Mary grew up like all the pious people in her time according to the traditions, according to the catechesis that was taught in the synagogues and when this word from heaven came it was also a provocation for her.
And we know that even Mary had moments when she didn't understand the choices made by Jesus. Let's recall when from the beginning, Luke reminds us, but also in this passage, that Mary and Joseph did not understand what Simeon was saying; and then in the temple, when Jesus is 12 years old, their parents don't understand what their child is choosing. Also in Mary this division has been made between what were the conceptions of the past and the novelty of this word. Mark, in chapter 3, reminds us that Mary with all the family members went to Capernaum to arrest Jesus because they said he had gone crazy ... ‘what kind of decisions is he making?’
This division existed in Mary and it is exactly the division that we also experience. When the word of God arrives there is a provocation, a deep wound because we are linked to our convictions, to our dreams and this word often invites us to make very brave decisions, sometimes even dramatic ones.
And now Simeon leaves the scene and Anna, the prophetess, appears:
“There was also a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was advanced in years, having lived seven years with her husband after her marriage, and then as a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple, but worshiped night and day with fasting and prayer. And coming forward at that very time, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were awaiting the redemption of Jerusalem.”
Now a character enters the scene: Anna, the prophetess. Let's try to capture the symbolism that Luke gives to this prophetess with messages for our life in the encounter with the Lord. She is presented as belonging to the tribe of Asher. It was the smallest and most insignificant of the tribes of Israel that had settled in the northern part of the holy land, near the Mediterranean Sea, a very fertile land and what had happened? They had gotten rich and with the material blessings also temptations arrived. And this tribe was left to what were the thoughts and behaviors of the neighboring peoples, of the pagans and this tribe of Asher, rich
but spiritually superficial, disappeared from the scene because they mixed with the pagans and then when the Assyrians came they wiped it out; and this tribe of Asher disappeared forever.
Here Anna is presented as belonging to the faithful remnant of this unfaithful tribe. The message we can learn for our life: whatever happens – people abandoning their faith… there are also others who remain faithful, who keep waiting for the promises made, because the Lord is faithful to his word. Here are all the symbolisms that the evangelist gives to the figure of this old woman and a widow: she is 84 years old, she has been faithful to her husband with whom she lived for seven years. The number 7 indicates fullness, but then she became a widow and is now 84 years old. We know that Israel, the Lord's wife, also presents herself as a widow. Widowed, and therefore no longer fertile because her husband is not by her side.
This widow is the symbol of the faithful remnant of Israel who remain waiting for her husband even in the midst of so much infidelity. She is 84 years old: this number is the result of 7 times 12 – 7 is perfection and 12 indicates the people of Israel. Anna represents Israel that having achieved the fulfilment of its mission now presents the Messiah to the world; she receives him in her arms and then hands him over to humanity. This Anna does not leave the sanctuary, she does not leave the temple of the Lord because that is the house of the husband, she does not go looking for lovers, she has no time to waste, she does not go from house to house to spend the afternoon in useless chatter, in gossip, in slander… NO. She knows that the days of her life are precious and must be lived in her husband's house. They must be spent in intimacy with him and in the service of the community.
He who is in love with Christ and, therefore, it is like the wife to the husband, what does she do? She lives in harmony with him in the temple and then she fulfils a very important mission: to talk about him because whoever is in love cannot keep this joy to herself; those who are in love with Christ announce him to all who need this light to give meaning to their lives.
Here is the message of this way of aging of this woman that has an important message for us elders; even Christians sometimes feel useless but when they have grasped the joy to be with the Lord and have caught the light for their lives that comes from the gospel, then they never waste time and until the last years of their life they are full of meaning because they still have a mission to fulfil, perhaps in humble but precious services that they must render to the brothers and sisters; and above all, like this old prophetess, they are tasked with speaking about Jesus to all those who seek meaning and a joyful outlook for their life; they have a testimony to give, precisely because they are old, to the children, the grandchildren and the youth of the community, of a life that made sense because it has always been lived in fidelity of a love relationship with the Lord.
Now we hear how this visit to the temple in Jerusalem concludes with the parents and the baby Jesus:
“When they had fulfilled all the prescriptions of the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.”
Today's Gospel passage concludes with the return of this family to Nazareth. There is an entry that refers to the growth of Jesus. Jesus does not differ in anything from the other children of his village, he grows with them, learns with them and plays with them. There is only one detail that differentiates him from the rest: he is full of wisdom and grace from God.
Wisdom is not learnedness; it is wisdom that teaches how to live an authentic life. From the beginning Jesus manifests that in him there is a force that leads him to realize a life which is the perfection of the human being.
And then, the grace of God. In Greek grace is χ?ρις - ‘jaris’: it is beauty. Whoever allows himself to be motivated by this Spirit that Jesus had in fullness, this divine sonship becomes a splendid person, a person who is beautiful in front of others because he is the realization of the authentic man. Even being God, the son of Mary has accepted the human condition in everything. Has shared all experiences of our life since childhood.
We are at the beginning of this year and listening every Sunday the word and the life proposals that Jesus will make to us, we will always listen to him within us. I wish you all a good Sunday and a good week.