Thursday, January 30, 2014

The Sunday Word

The Presentation in the Temple: Simeon (holding Jesus) and Anna (on the right); Mary with the two turtle doves and Joseph.

This Sunday, February 2, is the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord in the Temple. In the past this feast was the last day of the Christmas season.

But today this feast is sometimes called Candlemas Day because on this day there may be a blessing of candles and a procession. There's a tie between the candles and the phrase, a light for revelation to the Gentiles in Simeon's canticle in Luke's Gospel.

When the Gospel writer Luke tells us that Simeon was “looking forward to the consolation of Israel,” Saint Luke is saying that Simeon was steeped in the Hebrew Scriptures. The term “the consolation of Israel” derives from references in the book of Isaiah to God comforting the people by redeeming them. So first, Simeon was basing his pronouncement about Jesus on Scripture.

And second, Luke tells us that Simeon was being guided by the Holy Spirit.

Those two sources of understanding — the outward one of Scripture and the inward one of God’s direct inspiration — still stand today as means of deciding who Jesus is. So obviously, if you are going to take a razor to the Gospels, you’re not going to get the whole picture. The first place to look to decide who Jesus is is the Bible itself.

In that regard, the question of who Jesus is isn’t that difficult. The Gospels, if we look at them in total, give us some basic answers:

• Jesus is the one, who, after he was baptized, lived up to his baptism every day by the way he honored and obeyed the heavenly Father.

• Jesus is the one who proclaimed the Good News of God, preaching repentance and announcing that the kingdom of God had begun.

• Jesus is the one who was so filled with compassion that though it sometimes seemed to get in the way of his ministry, he still took time and energy to heal the sick.

• Jesus was the one who embodied the very authority of God, and whose life embroidered the deeds of God on the fabric of human experience. This was so evident that people who heard him commented on it.

• Jesus was the one who did not shun bad company, but who called them also to repentance and a place in the kingdom.

• Jesus is the one who repeatedly withdrew to pray.

• Jesus is the one in whom his contemporaries recognized a special connection with God — a recognition that led Peter to call him “the Son of the living God."

• Jesus is the one who went to the cross, understanding that in doing so, he was being obedient to the will of God, and was doing something profound for humankind.

• Jesus is the one who arose victorious over death on Easter and is thus living today.

Those are the things the Bible tells us directly. We may not understand the implications of all that we can say about Jesus from Scripture, but those things are enough to help us frame an answer to the question, “Who do you say Jesus is?”, an answer that includes the words “example,” “teacher,” “guide” and “Savior.”