Sirach 3, 2-6, 12-14 + Psalm 128 + Colossians 3, 12-21 + Luke 2, 22-40
St Francis of Assisi Parish Castle Rock, CO
If you do not understand what Luke is doing with this story, there is a danger of thinking that this family who come to the temple are somehow different from us. This is not the case. These announcements by Simeon and Anna are a tool that the Biblical writer uses to lead us to a deeper meaning. It is the same kind of tool that Shakespeare uses to tell the audience what characters are thinking or what is about to happen. In literature class we called these, “soliloquies”. These are not part of the story for the characters, but they are inserted for the reader. Not understanding that removes Mary and Joseph from reality making their lives and their family so unique that they cannot possibly relate to our experiences. That is a loss.
At the time it is perfectly logical and likely that two old people found every day in the Temple were speaking to and blessing every couple that came to fulfill the law. It is as though they did not want to miss the Messiah they longed for, so they were there for every child. There is nothing in this text that suggests Mary and Joseph were the only couple they greeted. What is important is that Mary and Joseph went to the temple. It is a detail that Luke provides to refute rumors in the early church that they were not good Jews. There is care all through Luke’s Gospel to show that they observed all the laws and customs.
When Simeon announces that this child will be a light to the Gentiles, Luke is telling us about the faith future of gentiles. It is like those “teasers” that get our attention to watch the news: “Stay tuned, details at 10:00.” Simeon’s announcement that this child will face opposition keeps us tuned in to see what that is all about.
We must remember then that this couple were real parents. They had no idea what was coming, what this child was going to be like, and since he was their first born, they didn’t even have any practice at parenting. We get no details about their private lives except one occasion when they get separated from their son, and another occasion when his mother goes with family members to get him and take him away. It sounds more like an intervention than anything else. They thought he was going to get into trouble with the way he was talking and challenging the authorities.
Anyone here ever get separated from one of your children? Nothing special about that except that it scares you to death and when it is over you don’t know how to feel. This is a real family. This is where and how God chose to begin the work of salvation and redemption: in the context of a family. This is fundamental Incarnation. God with us, Immanuel, is revealed in a family, and not just once. God is still being revealed in your family and in mine. The hand of God, the presence of God, the love of God, the forgiveness of God, the tenderness of God, the mercy of God: it’s all there when you choose to look and see.
This feast reminds us to look within. It is not an occasion to look out and put Mary and Joseph on a pedestal suggesting that their home and their relationships and their experiences were not the same as our own. My own opinion is that there is no information about their private home family life because it was so ordinary and so real. No news there, nothing to report.
The sword in the heart is an important detail. A sword is something that divides, cuts in two. It is a startling image for what Jesus will accomplish and what salvation will require of us. A sword piercing someone’s heart refers to discerning what God is doing in someone’s life, and their willingness to follow through on the painful consequences that flow from such discernment and choices. A discerning person sees things others miss, and therefore does things other people refuse to do.
A sword in the heart causes people to make decisions many would rather not have been forced to make. Mary’s heart experienced the same sword we all experience. No one comes into contact with her son without having to decide one way or the other about their faith and lifestyle. Do we reject or accept? Only by the decisions we make are the “thoughts of one’s heart revealed.”
Throughout his Gospel, Luke affirms that Mary chose the correct side of the sword. He shows her to be the perfect Christian: someone who hears God’s word and carries it out. Yet, because of the way we often fail to understand these Biblical stories, we fail to appreciate that she, along with everyone else who encountered the historical Jesus, had to make faith decisions. She and Joseph would only receive the insights contained in the Gospel after their son’s resurrection, not before. Except for the unique mystery of how Jesus’ conception came about, they had to relate to their son along the lines most parents relate to their children. Only their later reflections would make sense out of earlier events. It is the same for all of us. After things settle down and time passes and heals do we often understand and see what it was all about, what God was doing, and how we all grow in wisdom and faith. It’s always a matter of seeing things other miss and doing things others refuse to do.