Becoming Jesus, in the beginning

Tom Bartolomeo
Presentation of the Lord A 2014
Malachi 3: 1-4, Psalm 24
Hebrews 2: 14-18, Luke 2: 22-40
Reproduced with Permission

For Catholics the rite of Baptism replaced the people of Israel's rite of the 'Consecration of the First Born' which God required under Mosaic Law.

Consecrate to me every firstborn that opens the womb among the Israelites (The Lord said to Moses) both man and beast, for it belongs to me. Then Moses said to the people: "When the Lord, your God, has brought you into the land of the Canaanites, which he swore to you and our fathers he would give you, you shall dedicate to the Lord every son that opens the womb; and all the male firstlings of your animals shall belong to the Lord. If your son should ask you later on, 'What does this mean?' you shall tell him, 'With a strong hand the Lord brought us out of Egypt, the place of slavery. When Pharaoh stubbornly refused to let us go, the Lord killed every firstborn in the land of Egypt, every firstborn of man and beast. That is why I sacrifice to the Lord everything of the male sex that opens the womb, and why I redeem every first-born of my sons.' Let this, then be a sign on your hand and as a pendant on your forehead:

This rite of passage to the faith was completed by Jesus Christ in Baptism, his own at the hands of John the Baptist and ours commanded by Jesus before his Ascension into heaven:

All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and I will be with you always, to the end of time. (Matthew 28: 16-20).

The question arises, Where will we be at "the end time"? This world will then be gone and so will we be gone from here.

Jesus' Presentation in the temple had all the markings of the rite of Baptism with special instructions for the mother of God and Jesus' stepfather. We may think we have little to understand about Jesus' early life from his Presentation in the temple until his public ministry thirty year later, but we have more than enough to understand "Becoming Jesus" which Jesus finally achieved at his crucifixion, death and resurrection from death. Why it is important for us "becoming Jesus." That journey of ours began with our baptism as it did with Jesus' consecration to the Lord in the temple' in fulfillment of Simeon's prophesy he entrusted to Mary and Joseph for Jesus' education, the "firstborn" of God himself which Moses inscribed in the law of God a condition of their freedom from slavery and sin.

At our baptism we made certain promises, too. Our parents and godparents made these promises for us by name when our parents and godparents spoke for us:

Do you reject Satan? And all his works? And all his empty promises? And all his empty promises? Do you believe in God, the Father Almighty, creator of heaven and earth? Do you believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord, was born of the Virgin Mary, was crucified, died and was buried, rose from the dead, and is now seated at the right hand of the Father? Do you believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy Catholic church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting?

Becoming Jesus then takes two courses or perhaps, only one. One, the Son of Mary who became Jesus and, two, you and I who can become Jesus' disciples or not.

We had nothing to do with the first course, the first deliberate decision: becoming Jesus in his birth, death and resurrection. These were decisions Jesus and His Father had made long before we came into being. And, of course, without Christmas, Good Friday and Easter there would be no course for us to take to "life everlasting" which defines our faith, "the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen" recounted in the Book of Hebrews - that lead to "life everlasting". (Hebrews 11: 1).

Our modern secular world, however, can not or does not want to accept the proposition that the "things hoped for", anything hoped for, is always a matter of natural faith and hope. We can not know the future but we can trust we have a future although we can not know its content. We naturally strive for and hope to hold onto the good things of life forever, but are never satisfied with the 'for-now-only'. Why so many in their state of dissatisfaction shun even the notion of death, of the end of it all. And then what follows? After birth and life, death becomes the last unknown fact of our lives. Yet there is an innate longing for life without end in all of us. Our days are consumed with the mystery of our tomorrows. Jesus became man on our terms "emptied himself" of his divine prerogatives to live through the mystery of our tomorrows as a man so we may learn the mysteries of birth, life and death which God envisioned for us and revealed in the course of Jesus' birth, life and death. (Philippians 2:7).

The 'middle years' for us between birth and death became the principle focus of Jesus' life, daily becoming Jesus among us. His birth, death and resurrection would have been more than enough for our salvation, but where would we be in our instructions for life promised by Jesus, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me"? (John 14: 6).

As we course through the early mostly unknown years of Jesus' childhood before his public ministry we may occasionally discover some insights from Jesus' experiences as a child and an adolescent. In Luke's account of Jesus infancy we have the story of Mary and Joseph's purification and Jesus circumcision that "every male that opens the womb shall be consecrated to the Lord, and to offer sacrifice of a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons, according to the dictate in the law of the Lord" as cited in Mosaic Law. Simeon, we are told, who circumcised Jesus and received his mother for purification, on seeing Jesus suddenly spoke out, "Master . . . my eyes have seen your salvation . . . a light . . . to the Gentiles and . . . the glory for your people Israel". Mary and Joseph, we are told, "were amazed at what was said about [Jesus] particularly what Simeon told Mary Jesus' mother: 'this child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel . . . and you yourself a sword will pierce through your own soul also - that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.'." The scene in the temple closes with Jesus, Mary and Joseph returning "to Nazareth" and abruptly concludes, "the child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him." (Luke 2: 22-40).

What the prophet Simeon told Mary and Joseph set the course of Jesus' home schooling. It was God's essential preparations for Jesus' public ministry at adulthood.

They turned to the only study necessary, Sacred Scripture, the readings they heard as a family in the synagogue and their discussion of Scripture at home. Jesus, their son, would not forget the readings of Scripture, nor did Mary forget that Jesus was "destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, the sign of contradiction" he would become and that you Mary, "a sword will pierce through your own soul also - that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed." (ibid.). She prepared her son and herself for the "fall and rise of many" and the wounds she and Jesus would incur during their lives. Mary remembered what she had promised the angel Gabriel when she became pregnant with Jesus, "let it be done to me as you have said" (Luke 1: 38) which she now knew would include the "sign of contradiction"Jesus would become and the pain and suffering she and Jesus would endure. Years later Jesus would teach his disciples his mother's prayer to God in heaven . . . "thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven." From that time forward Mary grew in wisdom as did her son. Jesus' home schooling became apparent when at the age of twelve Mary and Joseph had lost and then found Jesus in the temple in Jerusalem "sitting among the teachers listening to them and asking them questions; and all who heard were amazed at his understanding and answers." When reminded by his mother, "your father and I have been looking for you anxiously", Jesus replied, "Why have you sought me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father's house? Mary and Joseph did not understand [then] . . . and his mother kept all these things in her heart." She would later understand after Jesus began his public ministry. And Jesus", we are told, "increased in wisdom and in stature, and in favor with God and man." (Luke 2:41-53). Jesus had come of age and his prayers to his Father in heaven became the predominant source of his wisdom for his remaining years at home and abroad winning "favor" with God and man up to and after God the Father at Jesus' baptism announced to the world, Jesus their Messiah, 'listen to him". (cf. John 1: 29-34).

From the beginning death stalked Jesus, first as a newborn who was threatened by King Herod and the impending danger revealed at his presentation in the temple when his mother is warned that a "sword would pierce her heart also". At the start of Jesus' public ministry we learn that the death of John the Baptist moved Jesus to leave his home in Nazareth to live in Capernaum at the cross roads of a world beyond the Jordan river where he was baptized. Jesus lived constantly with the knowledge he would die at the hands of his persecutors. Ironically, the source of life Himself knew he was born and doomed to die. Irony of ironies Jesus' death ultimately restored life for all human beings who would become Jesus themselves by finding their personal reconciliation with death through Jesus.

Many lapsed Christians knowingly or not place their hope in this world when once they had hope in life everlasting. Becoming Jesus may still ultimately bring the peace of everlasting life to his disciples as Jesus promised.

Peace I leave with you; [Jesus said] my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. You heard me say to you, 'I am going away, and I will come to you.' If you loved me, you would have rejoiced, because I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I. And now I have told you before it takes place, so that when it does take place you may believe. (John 14: 27-29).

Jesus shared these last sentiments of gratitude with his disciples on the evening before his arrest and death. He became their savior as he and his Father had intended and he would find in the finality of his earthly life the peace he sought for us which he would give freely to all others who become Jesus in their own lives.