When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the law of the Lord, ‘Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord’), and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, ‘a pair of turtle-doves or two young pigeons.’
Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying, ‘Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace,
according to your word;
for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.’
And the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, ‘This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.’
There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, having lived with her husband for seven years after her marriage, then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshipped there with fasting and prayer night and day. At that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.
When they had finished everything required by the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favour of God was upon him.
Translation: When the day of their cleansing under the law of Moses had been fulfilled, they brought him into Jerusalem to stand before the Lord, just as it has been written in the law of the Lord that each male opening a mother will be called sacred to the Lord, and they gave an offering according to what had been spoken in the law of the Lord, a team of turtledoves or two young pigeons.
And behold! a man was in Jerusalem named Simeon, and this man (was) just and circumspect, looking for the encouragement of Israel and a holy spirit was upon him, and it had been divinely intimated to him from the Holy Spirit not to see death before he might see the Lord's Christ. And he went in the spirit into the Temple, and when the parents of the child Jesus brought him in to do for him according to the custom of the law about him, and (Simeon) took him into (his) arms and praised God and said, "Now, Master, you release your servant in peace, according to your word, because my eyes have seen the salvation which you made ready to the face of all the peoples, a light into a revelation of nations and glory of your people Israel."
And his father and mother were astonished upon what was being spoken concerning him. And Simeon spoke well of them, and said to Mary, his mother, "Behold, this child is placed for the falling and raising up many in Israel, and into a sign spoken against, and a sword will pass through the life of you yourself in the same manner as the thoughts of many hearts have been revealed."
And there was Anna, a prophet, daughter of Phanuel, out of the tribe of Asher. She was advanced in many days. She lived with a man seven years from her virginity, and she was a widow until 84 years who was not put away (from) the Temple, fasting and praying, serving night and day. And at that hour, she stood praising God and she was speaking about him to all the ones welcoming the redemption of Jerusalem.
Background and situation: Several Lukan themes find expression in this text. One notes, for example, the pairing of Simeon and Anna. Stories concerning men and women are often balanced in Luke's gospel, just as we have already seen with Elizabeth and Zechariah in chapter one. All four of the gospels lift up women, but it is especially pronounced in Luke. Note, for example, that it is Anna who has the special title of prophet, and it is she who makes a public witness.
Secondly, Luke mentions the Holy Spirit three times in this text. Whenever you see the phrase "in the power of the Spirit," it's a fair bet that the text is from either Luke's gospel or the book of Acts (also written by Luke). The "power of the Spirit" is active throughout Luke's story.
Someone has said that Luke is an "up-and-out gospel," while Mark is a "down-and-in gospel." The Spirit can and does work either way. Luke wants us to know that the early days of the Jesus movement were marked by the Spirit's continual intervention, in this case to console Simeon and provide him spiritual insight.
Third, Luke also takes a generally more positive view toward the Temple and Jerusalem than any of the other gospel writers. The baby Jesus is presented at the Temple. Later, at age 12, the child Jesus will again be at the Temple. Where other gospel writers, and particularly Mark, have nothing good to say about either Temple or Jerusalem, Luke has an angel tells the disciples to "stay in Jerusalem" after the death of Jesus. (Mark tells them to go to Galilee.)
The Presentation: Joseph and Mary are presented as religiously devout. Joseph is taking Mary and the baby Jesus to the Temple for "their purification," although, strictly speaking, the purification ritual was for Mary only. The "purification" of the new mother occurred 40 days after the birth of a male child, and 80 days after the birth of a female child. The first-born male didn't need to be "purified." He was to be dedicated to the Lord, which could be had for the price of five shekels.
Thus, Luke is either wrong about a ritual of Israel, or he is making a point. Let's pick the latter. The phrase "their purification" is a reference to Jesus' solidarity with humanity. The Christ Child doesn't need to be "purified," but he's "purified" anyway, a sign that he stands with the people.
Readers will note the combination of Temple, religious ritual, the power of the Spirit, and the "law of the Lord." The Spirit, as noted, is mentioned three times, and "the law" four. The text is palpably Judaic, yet notice: For Luke, Spirit and Temple are not opposed. The religion of Israel is still vital and capable of bringing renewal and inspiring devotion.
Luke is careful, however, to avoid priests. Notice that Simeon is not identified as a priest. He may, in fact, be a lay person, while Anna is identified as a prophet. The people and traditions of Israel are seen positively by Luke, but priests and scribes are not.
Both Simeon and Anna are both "looking forward with confidence"--prosdexomai. Simeon is "looking forward" for the "comfort" or "consolation" of Israel. The word is paraklesis, a word which the fourth gospel will use for the Holy Spirit, the "Paraclete." (Literally, the word means "called alongside.")
Anna is also "looking forward," but she is looking for something slightly different. She's looking for lutrosin--"ransom, redemption, the end of obligation." These two concepts--related, but slightly different--are found together in Isaiah 52: 9: "Break forth together into singing, you ruins of Jerusalem; for the Lord has comforted his people, he has redeemed Jerusalem."
The clear message of Luke, then, is that the "comfort" and "redemption" of Jerusalem--the prophetic tradition of Isaiah--is fulfilled in the Christ Child.
All of the four gospels accentuate the prophetic tradition, but Luke seems to me to be especially explicit about it. The first words of Jesus in Luke's gospel are to quote the prophet Isaiah and announce the present fulfillment of Isaiah's text.
Or, to take another and very telling example, consider the story of Jesus asking the disciples what people are saying about him. The primary source--Mark--says, "And they told him, 'John the Baptist; and others say, Elijah; and others one of the prophets.'" Luke changes Mark in an interesting way. Luke says, "John the Baptist; but others say, Elijah; and others, that one of the old prophets has risen."
From Greek, it reads: "a certain prophet from the beginning rose." The word for "beginning" is archaione. It means "from the origin"--from the beginning of creation. The word translated as "rose" is aneste, the word for resurrection. Plus, it's aorist, which we know as past tense, which means that it has already happened. Luke combimes "prophet", "beginning", and "resurrection." For Luke, God's intention has been resurrection through Christ all along.
There is also a subtle reference to resurrection in this week's lection. Simeon tells Mary that the Christ Child is "destined for the falling and rising of many in Israel." One wonders: Is this the "falling" of some and the "raising" of others? Or, is it the falling of all the people and the raising of all?
Probably the latter. Here's why: The prophet Isaiah suffuses this passage, and this is yet another example. The "falling" and "rising" language is reminiscent of Isaiah 51: 17: "Rouse yourself, rouse yourself! Stand up, O Jerusalem, you who have drunk at the hand of the Lord the cup of his wrath, who have drunk to the dregs."
Granted, it's not obvious at first glance, but consider that the Septuagint translates "the cup of his wrath" with ptosis, which literally would be "the cup of falling." The word for "raising" in the Lukan text is, of course, anastasis, the word for resurrection. The "falling" is Isaian; the "rising" is Lukan. This is Luke saying, yet again, that the prophetic witness of Isaiah is fulfilled in the resurrection of Jesus.
Luke goes on to note the opposition that Jesus will meet. The rest of Simeon's oracle has had many interpretations. (Ray Brown lists eight.) This much can be said: The reference to "sword" strikes a note of violence, as later events will prove.
The "sword" appears directed, however, to the inner life--"the thoughts of many hearts." One is reminded of the passage in Hebrews about the Word of God being "sharper than any two-edged sword." Indeed, Luke does seem to indicate inner turmoil. Everything will be revealed. It will be painful, though not fatal. Human resistance will not thwart God's saving purpose.
Notice, too, that Luke has several old people in his infancy narrative. First, there was Zechariah and Elizabeth. Now, there is Simeon and Anna. Old people have been around awhile. They carry the community's memory. They are a repository of tradition.
Elizabeth represents Hannah, the mother of the prophet Samuel. Simeon represents Israel's long wait for the Messiah. Anna represents not only the prophetic tradition, but also its capacity for renewal and ability to do, as Isaiah said, "a new thing." (The prophet Anna is a woman.) Zechariah represents clueless priests, also part of the tradition.
People in liturgical churches have a long familiarity with the Song of Simeon. We know it as the Nunc Dimittus. First, Simeon notes his departure. Having seen the Messiah, he may now die in peace "for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel."
Simeon's words have--again--their reference to Isaiah, this time 40: 3-5 where "all flesh shall see the salvation of God."
This song brings to a climax the infancy narrative of Luke. Notice that it's accent is both on the fulfillment of the traditions of Israel and the inclusion of the gentiles. That is to say, Christ is the fulfillment of the prophetic vision and the vehicle through whom "all peoples" and "all flesh" are brought into the life of God.
Image: "The Presentation" by James B. Janknegt, 2008