The Presentation of Christ – Candlemas – Looking back & Looking forward
Simeon is described as a righteous and devout man, steeped in the law of Moses, obedient to it, an example of enduring faithfulness. A symbol, in his very person, of the old covenant, lived out, honoured, being brought to fruition. And yet he senses that there is something more to come, that the story is not finished. In that he is quite correct, for actually the story never ends, revelation is never final or full or complete, the mystery of faith is that its fullness always lies just beyond our understanding, always out of reach, yet beckoning us on.
And this is what Simeon, in the maturity of his years and spiritual depth, knows to be true. Whilst the temptations of old age are to settle in our ways, to repeat old patterns, to withdraw into the past, Simeon, and Anna, look forward. They are free. Free to think as their hearts and their consciences guide them, free to think beyond the limitations of the set ways, the general consensus, the way things are done. So too might we strive for that same freedom, that same vision.
By chapter 17 of Luke’s gospel, we are now approaching the end of what is called the journey narrative. Jesus’s disciples will soon welcome him into Jerusalem, for some brief moments of triumph, and so it is fitting that the main focus of his teaching now moves to them. By now his audience is well primed to favour the ‘poor’ over those of riches and privilege. But, just because you might be considered among the more blessed poor, Jesus warns them, don’t think for a moment that you are exempt from responsibility and judgement. Even in the Kingdom there is opportunity for scandal and the need for repentance and forgiveness. How might that warning apply to us in our own time and very different circumstances?
The idea of the ‘gated community’ has grown enormously in recent years. They are a symptom of societies that are so divided, so unequal, with such a small proportion of those who might be called well off and a vast number of those living in poverty, where such communities fear that at any moment the dreadful reality of their society could come crashing into their lives and homes. Gated communities are an attempt to deny the truth, to create a bubble of existence, that shuts its ears and eyes to the pain and suffering of society, in which one is actually involved and of which one might be also a cause. In today’s gospel reading Jesus confronts the timeless reality of injustice and indifference.
In Amos, the guilty are directly addressed – “…. you that trample on the needy and bring ruin to the poor of the land.”
And as he continues to travel towards Jerusalem, preaching as he goes, Jesus tells those with him just what it means to be a ‘disciple’.
Many of those with him would be the poor, the outcast, the oppressed, so a story about a rich man, moreover the most hated kind of all, the absentee landlord, would go down well. The master directs the cruel policy, the manager, the steward enacts it.
A tragic story not unknown in this land too.
And Jesus goes on to speak of money, how in their case, but also how for us, our attitudes to money can reveal who we are.