Saturday, 30 December 2017

Prosperity or Blessing?

When Jesus was only forty days old, his family, like all observant Jewish families of the day, presented themselves at the temple for purification, and they offered a sacrifice of two turtledoves. I read this story in Luke 2:22-40 and wonder if the two turtledoves in the “Twelve Days of Christmas” come from this passage. Surely, they have to be the same or is it dreaming on my part. However, Luke’s original audience would have wondered something else. “Turtle doves? Why didn’t they sacrifice a lamb?”

Here are the directions in Leviticus: When the days of her purification are completed, … she shall bring to the priest at the entrance of the tent of meeting a lamb in its first year for a burnt offering, and a pigeon or a turtledove for a sin offering. He shall offer it before the LORD, and make atonement on her behalf … If she cannot afford a sheep, she shall take two turtledoves or two pigeons, one for a burnt offering and the other for a sin offering ….” So, without saying, “Mary and Joseph were very poor,” Luke lets the reader know that Mary and Joseph were very poor.

There are preachers who will tell you that if you have faith, you will be financially prosperous. They have found a few verses in Scripture that support this “prosperity gospel” and it appears to be making these preachers prosperous, at least. Our culture wants this prosperity gospel to be true, because the dream that many in the Western world have adopted from America is not built on finding the blessings in poverty.

But if Joseph and Mary had faith enough to listen to the angel, to bring God’s own son into the world, and to be obedient enough to take him to the temple to obey the Laws of Moses, then they should have been prosperous beyond measure. Yet this couple couldn’t even afford to buy a lamb for the sacrifice. If God’s own family was struggling to get by, then we need to reconsider the connection between being blessed and being prosperous.

Simeon, about whom we know only what Luke tells us, was led by the Spirit to the temple. He has been waiting for the “consolation of Israel.” When Mary and Joseph walk in the doors of the temple, temple, the Spirit helps Simeon know he has found the right family, and Simeon takes the baby Jesus and blesses him. But here’s what I want to know. What did Simeon do after he spoke the blessing? After he realized that the family of God’s own son was in financial need.

Did he do something more for the family than speak a blessing? Did he do anything to be a blessing for them? Did he take them to a Subway restaurant to make sure they had dinner before they headed back to Nazareth? I trust that anyone who was led by the Spirit as Simeon was would have done something to alleviate their immediate hardship. But Luke doesn’t give us those details. So, we have to figure out how to be blessings on our own.

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