According to Jewish Law, the firstborn son had special duties and privileges. He shall inherit a double share of his father’s property (Deut 21:17). Parents should offer him to God and then redeem him (Num 18:15-16). Even if the parents have only one son, yet they consider him as the firstborn. So, the parents of Jesus presenting him to God as firstborn does not imply that Mary had other sons.
The LORD asked the Israelites through Moses, “Consecrate to me every firstborn. The first to open the womb among the Israelites, whether human or animal, is mine” (Ex 13:2). The LORD clarified the reason for the consecration of the firstborn: “As Pharaoh stubbornly refused to let us go, the LORD slew every firstborn in Egypt, of man and beast alike. That is why I sacrifice to the LORD all the males that open the womb, but the firstborn of my sons, I redeem” (Ex 13:15). The offering of the firstborn male to God was a grateful remembrance of God saving the firstborn male of Israelites at the time of the original Passover from Egypt, while the angel killed the firstborn of the Egyptians (Ex 12:12). Since Jesus was also the firstborn male of Mary, she and Joseph presented Jesus in the Temple.
The Israelites believed that their firstborn males and animals belonged to God. They sacrificed animals and bought back the child from God by giving five shekels to a priest. That amount was worth a month’s income. That helped to support the priests who consecrated themselves to God’s service in the place of the firstborn sons of Israel (Num 3:11-13). Thus, the non-Levites ransomed their firstborn for five shekels (Num 18:16). They did this on the 40th day by presenting the child to a local priest and paying him the money.
However, in Jesus’ case, the Bible does not mention any such payment. Joseph and Mary took the infant Jesus to the Temple and offered him to God. The parents did not redeem Jesus because he would serve God as a priest like the Levites. He later sacrificed himself as a priest and lamb for the remission of humanity’s sin. Since Mary’s purification and presentation of Jesus in the Temple happened 40 days after Christmas, the feast falls on 2 February according to the church calendar.
ISRAEL, THE FIRST BORN OF GOD
Though all people are the children of God, Israel, as a nation, had the special privilege of the firstborn of God. The LORD asked Moses to tell Pharoah: “Thus says the LORD: Israel is my son, my firstborn. I said to you: Let my son go, that he may serve me. Since you refused to let him go, I will kill your son, your firstborn” (Ex 4:22-23). The sonship of Israel is symbolic because they are a covenantal people of God.
Referring to the return of the Holy Family from Egypt, Mathew referred to Hosea 11:1, “When Israel was a child, I loved him. Out of Egypt I called my son.” This has a three-dimensional meaning. God liberated Israel, his chosen people from their slavery in Egypt. Later, Infant Jesus came out of Egypt after his period of life-threat. Finally, Christ liberated all who believed in him by leading them from spiritual slavery to the sonship of God through baptism. The Catholic church teaches, “Baptism not only purifies from all sins, but also makes the neophyte “a new creature,” an adopted son of God, who has become a ‘partaker of the divine nature,’ member of Christ and co-heir with him, and a temple of the Holy Spirit” (CCC-1265).
Regardless of whether we are male or female, born first or later, we are the children of God because of our faith in Jesus. Let us keep that privilege throughout our lives.