This week the Feast of the Presentation interrupts our regularly scheduled programming. Our lectionary and feast calendars have conspired to interrupt our journey with Matthew’s gospel, just when we had gotten on the road with Jesus in his ministry and he was gathering up his disciples. And, though we had not heard much of Jesus’ message other than what he had picked up from John the Baptist, “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is near!”, we had a very real sense that we were about to get to the good stuff – to Jesus’ famous teachings from the Sermon on the Mount. But, the Feast of the Presentation trump card has been played (see BCP p. 16), so we have to drop everything and once more attend to the 8lb 6 oz sweet baby Jesus, who is also, according to Luke, the Lord whom many sought who came suddenly to his Temple, this time in the arms of Mary his mother. This Sunday, we who have had a chance to settle into the narrative of Matthew’s gospel and have consented once more to getting on the road with Jesus, have an opportunity to pause and ask, “Who is this one whom we follow? What does it mean to be in relationship with him?”
Now I am not saying that the well-loved story of encounter between Mary, the Theotokos (the God-bearer), and Simeon, the Theodochos (the God-receiver) and Anna the prophet is not worth our attention. It is. I am just making a plea on behalf of a dramatically beautiful text, a relative newcomer to our Feast of the Presentation lections, that might also be able to help us address our question: “Who is this one whom we follow?”
About the pericope
The passage assigned by the lectionary, Heb 2:14-18, drops us into the middle of things in a way that is a little disorienting. Of course, even if you are reading Hebrews from start to finish for the 100th time, it is hard not to trip over 2:14b and 2:16 a little. What’s the deal with the devil and angels? But then, we get to those beautiful reflections on the descending and ascending work of Christ in 2:17-18. These verses, which were very helpful in the Church’s christological debates, cry out for proclamation.
However, if I had my way, I would most certainly include 2:10-18 in this pericope, especially on this feast. In Luke’s gospel, Jesus comes to the temple in the arms of Mary to be presented according to Jewish law. In this passage, we are the ones who our brought forth by Jesus and presented to God. This comes to pass through Jesus’ merciful high priestly ministry, and it is seen to be the fulfillment of God’s purposes for human expressed in 2:5-8. The preacher of Hebrews casts a vision of fulfillment of this vision in 12:22-24. By including verses 2:10-13, we capture more of the relationship between Jesus and those who respond to his call.
Who is this one whom we follow?
Craig Koester offers a helpful reflection on the three key christological themes in 2:10-18:
Christ comes to us as the unique Son, who calls us brothers and sisters and participates in our suffering.
Christ comes to us as a liberator – the only one who is able to free us from fear and death.
Christ comes to us as a faithful and merciful high priest, who is able to deal with our sin.
The passage from Luke tells us about the salvific character of this sign that will be spoken against, but Hebrews connects the salvific character of the sign to vivid imagery that may touch the imagination of your community. The themes of solidarity and liberation build upon the energy of the event in the temple narrated by Luke.
Since Hebrews itself is a sermon (many scholars say), the pressure is always upon us, the congregation, to respond to how God is speaking through Christ. So, how do we respond to Christ who calls us brother or sister and participates in our suffering?
How do we respond to Christ the liberator, who can free us from the fear of death’s power?
How do we respond to Christ as merciful high priest, who intercedes on our behalf and who calls us to holiness?
Simeon, Anna, and Mary offer us some ways of responding to encounter with Christ. How might you and your community respond?
Recommended commentaries on Hebrews:
Attridge, Harold. The Epistle to the Hebrews: A Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews. Edited by Helmut Koester. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1989.
Johnson, Luke Timothy. Hebrews: A Commentary. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2006.
Koester, Craig R. Hebrews: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2001.
Long, D. Stephen. Hebrews. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2011.