- Posted by Guest Blogger
- On December 28, 2020
The Fruits of this Mystery: Sacrifice and Obedience
By Daniella Palmiotto
This fourth Joyful mystery, the Presentation of Jesus, is the first mystery where we see Mary and Joseph acting as parents of the child Jesus. We previously read about how Mary and Joseph traveled a great distance to Bethlehem, Mary gave birth in a manger, shepherds found them and praised God for encountering the infant, and the Holy Family returned to their hometown of Nazareth to begin this new chapter of life. I often hear parents say that children don’t come with a manual. I imagine Mary and Joseph with this newborn baby, who the angel Gabriel said would be great and the son of God, who would have the throne of David and would reign over Jacob’s descendants forever, and who would have a kingdom with no end (Luke 1:32-33), wondering “can we please have a manual? Do we raise this child like any other child? If not, what should be different?” Their child was destined for something that they could not fully comprehend. Instead of making things complicated, we see Mary and Joseph obediently taking one step at a time. Scripture tells us that on the eighth day, as their faith prescribed, they circumcised the child and gave him the name Jesus that the angel had given him (Luke 2:21). Then forty days after Jesus’ birth, they went to Jerusalem to present him in the Temple and to offer an animal sacrifice as the Law of Moses required (Luke 2:22-24).
I am writing this reflection on the feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph. The Gospel reading is precisely the passage in Luke chapter 2 that talks about the Presentation. I loved the phrase that our priest used to talk about the Holy Family. He said they “lived in mystery.” They did not know what would come next but they walked in faith knowing that God was faithful to his promises. The Holy Family ties back to our father in faith, Abraham, who we read about in the first reading from Genesis. God was faithful and fulfilled His promise to Abraham that his descendants would be as numerous as the stars in the sky when Sarah gave birth to their son, Isaac. In a similar way, the Holy Family clung to God’s promises and fully demonstrated sacrifice and obedience in the face of uncertainty. They trusted God to know the big picture and they simply stepped out in obedience to perform the next action that was required – bringing Jesus to be presented at the Temple, moving to Egypt when instructed by the angel, returning to Nazareth when King Herod died (Matthew 2), all while feeding Him, caring for Him, and loving Him every step along the way.
Their acts of sacrifice and obedience reveal so much about how we are to handle our own lives. When we are overwhelmed and not sure what is to come (i.e. our current reality), we don’t have to complicate things. Instead, just take one step. Mary and Joseph were people of deep faith. They obediently followed the Law of Moses, sought God’s guidance and direction, and discerned the one step before them. We too can grow in obedience and sacrifice by cultivating lives of prayer, being obedient in our duties (familial, professional, church, etc.), loving heroically, growing in complete reliance on God, and discipling ourselves so that we may be open to how
God is moving and directing us. This virtue of sacrifice reminds me of one of my favorite verses, “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it” (Hebrews 12:11). When we live lives of discipline and order, we pursue God and create space for Him to reveal Himself to us. He will direct our steps and it will not be a mystery. Mary and Joseph had lived their lives in a disciplined fashion obedient to the Law of Moses so they were ready for these great acts of sacrifice and obedience that they were asked to make when Jesus was born and they had to navigate parenting the Word made flesh.
One of the striking things about this Joyful mystery is that it is also the first Sorrow of Mary. This is again a common theme amongst the Joyful mysteries – the joy is accompanied by sorrow and uncertainty.
While Mary and Joseph were fulfilling their duty of presenting Jesus in the Temple, they encountered Simeon, a righteous and devout man who had received the promise by the Holy Spirit that he would meet the Messiah during his lifetime. Simeon praised God upon seeing and holding Jesus for fulfilling the promise He made to him. Simeon’s obedience and sacrifice and dedication to the mission that God had for him led him to be in the Temple at the time that the child Jesus entered, thereby allowing God to fulfill the promise that He made to Simeon. Imagine Mary and Joseph’s emotions as this man in the Temple recognized that Jesus was the Savior for whom Israel longed by stating, “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you may now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all nations: a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people
Israel” (Luke 2:29-32). Whatever sense of joy, hope, and excitement Mary experienced at hearing those words by Simeon was tempered by what he said next, “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too” (Luke 2:34-35). Mary could have panicked and demanded more information including when, by who, where, can we avoid it? We don’t read about Mary’s emotions. Instead, we read that the prophetess Anna subsequently praised God for the child Jesus who was the answer to Jerusalem’s redemption (Luke 2:36-38).
Joseph and Mary received these words by the prophets and continued to “live in mystery” obediently and sacrificially. This passage about the Presentation ends by emphasizing that Joseph and Mary had done everything required by the Law of the Lord (Luke 2:39). They were thorough in their obedience and sacrifice and held nothing back. When they returned to their town of Nazareth, Jesus “grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was on him” (Luke 2:40). What a journey for Mary and Joseph as they witnessed this child grow in stature and in wisdom and to see God’s grace working through Him. Just as we could choose to live in fear wondering what will come next, Mary could have lived each moment wondering when her heart would be pierced and wondering when the ominous prophecy of Simeon would occur. Instead, Mary lived obediently and sacrificially, her heart expanding and growing in order to love and care for her son, the Messiah for whom the Israelites had longed throughout the years.
Lord, we ask for an increase of these virtues of sacrifice and obedience that we may cultivate order and discipline to create space in our hearts for you and to attune ourselves to the ways that you are directing our steps. We trust in your faithfulness and your promises and know that you are moving and working even when we do not feel it or see it. We surrender completely and hold nothing back from you. Thank you for the example of the Holy Family and we pray for every family to mirror the love, obedience, and sacrifice lived by Jesus, Mary and Joseph. Amen.