Feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph – Luke 2:22-40

Today is the Feast of the Presentation of Our Lord in the Temple. In the past, it was also known as the Purification of Our Lady. It was further referred to as Candlemas Day because Simeon saw in Jesus a great Light. According to Leviticus 12, after a woman gives birth to a son, she is impure for forty days. At the end of that period, she is to bring an offering to the temple, which the priest offers as a sacrifice, effecting her purification.

However, in the book of Exodus we also find another instruction relating to consecration of the first offspring. It is written that every first-born child which “opens the womb”, whether human or animal, must be offered to God because it belongs to God, Exodus (13:2-15). In Exodus, this verse is set in the context of God’s deliverance of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. Children born into slavery belonged to the slave master; in consecrating them to God, the Israelites affirmed their new identity as God’s people.

The law also applied for first born animals. However, if the first-born male donkey was critical to a family’s livelihood it could be bought back from God by offering a lamb in its place. This is called redeeming the first-born animal.  So too, the first-born male child could be bought back from the Lord by paying five silver shekels to the temple, Numbers (3:46-51); Leviticus (27:6).  

Today as we celebrate the feast of the Holy Family and there are lessons to be leant from the Holy Family and also from Anna and Simeon.

We know that Jesus was God in human flesh. Mary was a specially chosen woman to be the mother of Jesus Christ, out of the many women in the whole of Israel and, indeed, of the world. Joseph was a “just” or “righteous” man, Matthew (1:19). The holy family did not need to submit to this law and yet, they humbly submitted themselves to all the Jewish customs and traditions of their day like any other ordinary people. Today the law, especially religious laws are often seen as something that needs to be resisted. Yet laws are never given to enslave us but to protect us from evil.

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