Sunday, 2 February 2014

The Number 40


In Biblical numerology, the number "40" symbolises a period of great transformation which hopefully would end in some form of fulfilment. For instance, the Israelites wandered in the desert for forty days before entering the Promised Land. Noah's flood persisted for forty days. Moses stood before God on the summit of Mount Sinai for forty days. Nineveh was given forty days to repent. Jesus fasted for forty days and ascended into Heaven forty days after His resurrection.

Today, once again we encounter the number "40": according to Jewish law, forty days after a baby boy is born, the parents have to present him to God (Lev 12:3-4). In medical science, this 40-day postpartum period is called the puerperium, a time when the mother's body slowly returns to its non-pregnant state, both anatomically and physiologically. The Jewish law, either by coincidence or not, attaches a symbolic meaning to this biological phenomenon: the requirement at the end of puerperal period to present a male newborn to the Temple accompanied with the offering of two turtledoves or two young pigeons, is a rite of purification for the mother.

What is the meaning of this transformation and purification for us? What is being changed, what is being purified?

Firstly, Jesus purified the Temple. Jesus came to fulfil the Old Testament; He perfected the offerings of the Old Rite such as lambs and bulls, because He is the spotless Lamb most pleasing to God. The New Rite's offering is the Son of God Himself, and only through this Victim can we embrace true reconciliation with our Creator, whom we now call Father.

Secondly, by purifying the Old Testament law, Jesus also transformed and purified ourselves to become worthy offerings for God. Truly, "He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; He will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver, so that they may once again bring righteous offerings to the Lord." (Malachi 3:3) Jesus emptied Himself and wore our humanity, so that we humans may share in His Divinity. Jesus made Himself one of us: He was born in a lowly place, He was subject to human love through Joseph and Mary, and He was even tempted just like we are, only He never sinned. His sacrifice then gave us the grace and strength to fight against the Evil One and to live in holiness.

Thirdly, Jesus changes our lives by becoming "the light of nations". As the True Light, He gives us knowledge about the Way, the Truth, and the Life. As the True Light, He reveals to us the reality of the Family of God—that is, the Holy Trinity—and God's great plan for humanity. And lastly, as the True Light, He also exposes our errors, or as Simeon put it, "the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed". Therefore, let us call an end to a life in darkness of reason and faith: let us approach that eternal Light so that we may be healed, liberated, and transformed into His likeness.

Praise God for the gift of 40 Days of Christmas! In His light, we can now walk in truth, in hope, and in love!

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Daily Reading for Sunday, 2 February 2014

First Reading — Malachi 3:1-4
Responsorial Psalm — Psalm 24:7,8,9,10
Second Reading — Hebrews 2:14-18
Gospel Reading — Luke 2:22-40

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Image: "Presentation of Jesus at the Temple", Simon Vouet

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