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The Presentation in the Temple. The Narrative Function of Lk 2:22-39 in Luke-Acts

(Mod.: Prof. Dean BÉCHARD, S.J.)

The passage of the presentation in the Temple has been studied with diachronic methodologies looking for the historicity and value of the two Jewish customs that appear in it: the purification of the mother, and the redemption of the son. However, narrative criticism is needed in order to discover the meaning developed by the narrator and its importance in Luke-Acts. Such an analysis of the passage’s plot and structure shows that Lk 2:22-39 reveals the identity and mission of Jesus. The Lukan infancy narrative is a unified plot of revelation that progressively reveals the character of Jesus until its climatic presentation of Jesus in the Temple. The presentation passage picks up many of the main features of Jesus contained in the previous episodes and adds important features not present in the other pericopes: the Temple as a privileged place of revelation, the universal offer of salvation in Jesus, and the divided response in Israel.

These distinctive features of the passage are subsequently developed throughout the progression of Luke-Acts. In fact, infancy narratives in Greco-Roman and Jewish literature were commonly used as a type of literary introduction, a usage that suggests a proleptic purposing of the infancy narrative in Luke as well. The significance of the passage increases as it is related to additional parts of the Lukan composition. Simeon’s characterization of Jesus, particularly in his commission statement with its universal salvation and divided response, is fulfilled not only in Jesus, but, surprisingly, also in his disciples. This is verified in the common architecture seen in the narrator’s characterization of the protagonists throughout the entire macro-narrative. Jesus, his disciples, and Paul are characterized by a presentation which includes a commissioning statement; each presentation mirrors Jesus’ presentation and is fulfilled throughout the public life of the character, from the very beginning until its end.

Just as Luke 1–2 is an overture introducing the main topics of the composition, the distinctive features of Lk 2:22-39 are like a musical key indicating the correct interpretation of the different staves. Jesus’ disciples are presented in the light of Jesus’ presentation in order to fulfill a universal salvation which sometimes involves rejection. The presentation passage proves the narrative coherence of Luke-Acts and the unity between Jesus and his disciples. It has both christological and ecclesiological implications: the universal offer of salvation, which implies a rejection, affects not only Jesus but also his followers, the reader included, who is invited to configure himself with Jesus’ disciples in Luke-Acts and, ultimately, through them with Jesus Christ.