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Sunday Homily: The Enlightened Jesus (Like Us) Rejects the Religion of His Childhood

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Readings for the feast of the Presentation of the Lord: MAL 3: 1-4; PS 24: 7-10; HEB 2: 14-18; LK 2: 22-48.

Today is the feast of the Presentation of the Lord. It recalls the day when the infant Jesus entered Jerusalem's temple for the first time. Jesus' presentation began a relationship with the temple and its priesthood that was difficult at best.

This first entrance however was dominated by the simple faith of his impoverished parents. They came offering the sacrifice of the poor -- two pigeons or turtle doves.

However all was not smooth even that day. In effect, two elderly fortune tellers, Simeon and Anna, confront Jesus' parents and predict that trouble lay ahead for Jesus and them.

But that would be long in the future -- after (as today's gospel selection concludes) Jesus matured and grew up. Some even say he traveled to India, absorbed the sub-continent's ancient wisdom, and came back Enlightened.

In any case, by the time of Jesus' final visit to the temple, he was fully at odds with its priesthood and talked openly about the temple's destruction -- almost as if he relished the thought.

All of this might be reminiscent of our own relationships with the church. Many of us were baptized as infants -- introduced to the faith by simple parents.

But then we too advanced in age and wisdom -- even to the point where today we might find ourselves at odds with the church and its priests.

Could it be that this is the human vocation -- to be loyal church members until (like Jesus) we realize our religion's hypocrisy, its cooperation with oppression and its need of reform? Where does it leave us vis-a-vis the church? Are we called to step outside its boundaries and embrace mystical enlightenment? Or is our vocation to remain within as outspoken critics? Can the two options be combined?

I try to capture those thoughts and questions in the following attempt at poetic reflection of today's readings from Malachi, I Corinthians, and Matthew's Gospel.

I

The prophet Malachi said this day would come!
The Lord would send his messenger to scorch the Temple and its worthless priests.
It would hurt, Malachi warned.
In the presence of God's anointed,
Those faithless "holy men" would feel their world was melting --
As if they were melting like gold or silver in a refiner's cauldron,
As if caustic lye were thrown in their hypocritical faces.
Ha!
Then those unworthy priests
Would finally be forced to do
Something pleasing to God.
Let them all go to hell!

II

The prophet Malachi said this day would come!
And here it is at last.
Or so it seems.
But what's this?
The promised messenger is a poor child
Wrapped in a blanket patched and smelling of baby urine.
His parents with simple uncomprehending faith
Offer the bored priest
Two pigeons or a pair of doves
(I forget which).
The priest hardly notices either.
But he performs his magic rite
And rattles by rote the hackneyed phrases.
He would find the notion laughable that he or his temple
Might have anything to fear from . . .
"What's this child's name?" he asks.
"Yeshua ben Joseph," his father stutters
In tones of humble deference.

III

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Mike Rivage-Seul is a liberation theologian and former Roman Catholic priest. Retired in 2014, he taught at Berea College in Kentucky for 40 years where he directed Berea's Peace and Social Justice Studies Program.Mike blogs (more...)
 

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