33 The child’s father and mother marveled at what was said about him. 34 Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, 35 so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”
In v. 33, Joseph is Jesus’ legal father. Simeon prophesies in vv. 34-35 through the Spirit (v. 25). Jesus is destined for the death and resurrection (“falling” and “rising”) of many; he will meet opposition, and will cause many to think deeply about him. Mary too will need to decide for or against Christ (“own soul”, v. 35). Simeon and Anna together stand before God; to Luke, men and women are equal in God’s eyes. Anna praises God, and tells many the meaning of Jesus, as Simeon has prophesied. Like Samuel, “the favor of God was upon him” (v. 40).
- Simeon foresees rejection and catastrophe. Majority of Israel will reject Jesus.
- “A sword will pass through your own soul,” addressed to Mary
- Sword is a selective sword of judgment, destroying some and sparing others.
- Discriminating judgment will come upon Israel and upon Mary as an individual.
- Jesus will later declare: “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it” (Acts 1:14).
Matthew and Luke:
- Both introduce a motif of passion and suffering into the aftermath of the birth story.
- Writing fifty years later, both know that the good news of Jesus will be accepted by many, but also rejected and vigorously opposed.
- sign that will be contradicted.
- occasion for the fall of many in Israel.
- occasion for a sword passing through the soul (Luke 2:34-35).
Simeon wanted Mary to know that her baby Jesus would grow up to be a sign that will be opposed by many in Israel.
What he saw in Mary’s face was a long way off, but it was there so plainly he couldn’t not say it: “And a sword will pierce your own soul too.” It is part of the pain she will receive.
This is the first reference in Luke’s gospel to Christ’s suffering; it is a note of sorrow.
The word “sword” in Simeon’s statement to Mary denotes in Greek a large sword, not the small dagger of the time. It is a large sword that will pierce Mary’s soul, one that pierces to the heart.
Simeon’s release to a new kind of life of peace entailed a revelation of suffering. Life is both marvelous and difficult, good and bad with joy and suffering.
At any given moment life can be many happy things, but suffering is universal and inevitable, and to face that reality and come to terms with it is the beginning of wisdom.
Simeon’s song is reminding us that suffering is an undercurrent of life – Suffering is one of the homes we live in.
Simeon seems to be musing about a fresh perspective on the paradox of suffering. In his statement to Mary, he is saying that the greatest circumstance of suffering in this world will bring about the greatest miracle of peace that has ever taken place.
Suffering takes us from experiencing the depths, to living in the depths, to living out of the depths. And while one cannot survive in the depths for too long, it is there that somehow the pearls are found.
When the worst finally happens, or almost happens, the paradox is that a kind of peace follows. After passing beyond grief, beyond terror, moving all but beyond hope, it i.s there in that wilderness that for the first time in our lives we catch sight of something of what it must be like to know God most fully, when there is nothing else left.
Simeon, in his few heart-wrenching words to Mary, is also saying that the truest and most lasting peace can be found in and through the greatest suffering. Perhaps this is what the apostle Paul meant when he wrote to a small group in Philippi that God s peace ‘passes all understanding.
Simeon sings of this special refinement of sorrow: a sorrow that leads to the deepest and most beautiful calm.
We are enabled to ride through the storms of life because we know that the paradox of suffering betokens a reality beyond the storm more precious than we can imagine.
Simeon understands that this Christ Child did not exist to spare us the indignities of a wounded creation. Through him we have life in the midst of life’s wounds, and can live fully and hopefully, not in some fantastic never-never land not yet arrived, but in the ambiguous reality here and now.
Anna then approaches the Holy Family. She, too, recognizes Jesus as messiah, but she has a very different reaction: “At that moment, she came and began to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem” (Luke 2:38).
She is 84 years old, according to Luke, and she does not want to die: She wants to proselytize. Like the disciples who will follow her, she is driven to bear witness to what she has seen. Mary was the first to have the good news announced to her, but Anna is the first woman to understand fully and proclaim the good news.
This is because in addition to being a proselytizer, Anna is a “prophetess” (Luke 2:36). In fact, she is the only woman in the New Testament explicitly described as a “prophetess.” She then stands in the line of figures like the judge, military leader and prophetess Deborah and the Jerusalem prophetess Huldah, who, in the days of King Josiah, was asked to verify that an ancient scroll (a form of Deuteronomy) discovered during Temple renovations was indeed the word of God (2 Kings 22).
Unlike Simeon, Anna is not just visiting the Temple for the day; she is there all the time. According to Luke, Anna “never left the Temple but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day” (Luke 2:37). Perhaps she was part of some sort of order of widows (Luke tells us her husband died after only seven years of marriage) who had specific religious functions in the Temple. She may have been able to undertake this role in the Temple because she was no longer in periodic states of ritual impurity caused by menstruation.
Notice Luke’s deft writing: Simeon praises the Lord while Anna offers thanks; he prophesies, but she is called a prophetess (Luke 2:29,32,34,36).
Luke may also have seen Anna as the second witness in or around the Temple needed to validate. Deuteronomy 19:15 stresses the importance of having two witnesses to validate an event.
Alfred Plummer, in his classic commentary on Luke, suggested that the difference between Anna and Simeon provides a clue to Luke as a salvation historian, a chronicler of the mighty acts of God for his people through the ages. Yes, a messiah has arrived, as Simeon recognizes, but, as the prophetess Anna suggests, a new era, with a new and living voice of prophecy, has at the same time dawned. In this new era, the living voice of God will continue to speak about the messianic one.
Anna is the first in a line of prophetic disciples who will speak about Jesus to all who were looking for the redemption of Israel. Not everyone can be a prophet, however. Mary, for example, does not fully understand what Anna immediately recognizes. And she won’t for several years.
Luke summarizes Anna’s encounter with the little family. Unlike Simeon, her direct speech is narrated—yet it is powerful. While Simeon speaks of the larger and later context of the child to the Gentiles and Israel (vv. 30,32), Anna evangelizes immediately and selectively—to those “looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem” (v. 38). She and Simeon join others in Luke’s gospel in recognizing this child’s great significance and wide import: the angel Gabriel (1:31,33), Elizabeth and John (in uterus) (1:42,45) Zechariah (1:76-79) and the Bethlehem shepherds who also evangelize (2:11,12,20).
As a prophetess, Anna receives insight into things that normally remain hidden to ordinary people; she recognizes who this child is and tells of his significance to selected people in Jerusalem. Her actions affirm Amos 3:7: “Surely the Sovereign Lord does nothing without revealing his plans to his servants the prophets.”