bible blog 1852

LUKE CHAPTER 2

Jesus Is Named

21 After eight days had passed, it was time to circumcise the child; and he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.

Jesus Is Presented in the Temple

22 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 23 (as it is written in the law of the Lord, ‘Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord’), 24 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.’

25 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. 26 It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah.  27 Guided by the Spirit, Simeon[f] came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law, 28 Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying,

29 ‘Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace,
    according to your word;
30 for my eyes have seen your salvation,
31     which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles
    and for glory to your people Israel.’

33 And the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him. 34 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 35 so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own heart too.’

36 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, 37 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. 38 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.

presentation-of-christ-in-the-temple-1466

Mantegna

 

Most English translations are impatient with the repetition which is part of Luke’s style in this passage, for example, his phrase “The days were fulfilled when…” which is translated “it was time for” in verses 21, 22. Luke wants to emphasise that everything is happening according to the the Torah or Law of God, in an orderly process, which brings to an end the old partnership between Israel and her God, and begins a new and even more troublesome one.

Although the child himself has no choice in the matter, he is treated according to the letter of the Law, with a circumcision, which by the time Luke was writing was not imposed on the gentile communities of Messiah Jesus. Luke is reminding his readers that the Messiah is first of all Israel’s true King and a product of her dark and circuitous journey with God. Nevertheless his vocabulary also continues to emphasise female experience in a way which is quiet but revolutionary: “conceived in the womb” “purification”, “opening the womb” (here translated firstborn), “his mother  Mary” (not Joseph his father) the prophetess Anna. These remind the reader that although the tradition is patriarchal something new and disturbing is happening.

Simeon the Lord’s slave, can leave now in peace because he has, as promised, seen the Messiah. He stands for the old Israel, the Lord’s slave, which has also accomplished its mission under God, and must give way to the new Israel of the Messiah. He will be  a sign that is opposed because the old Israel will prove unwilling to give way to the new. Those who side with him will rise, the others will fall. But the transition will be painful, not least for the mother of the Messiah- child.

It is often said that both Simeon and Anna represent the old Israel, and this is true, but not in the same way. He the male, celebrates the arrival of the Messiah and takes his leave; she, the female, also recognises him and becomes a public witness for him. In this way she becomes, along with Mary Joseph, Elizabeth and Zechariah and the shepherds, part of the new messianic community in which the sexes have equal status. Indeed all of these have no real status at all in the society Luke depicts, but discover it in association with the child-Messiah who is destined (nobody yet knows how paradoxically) to bring justice and peace to the world. Their engagement with that peaceful justice places them together on the threshold of a new world, which however will not be the end of pain.

presentazionealtempio1700

detail from above

 

As always readers will find that they should read slowly, giving weight to every word in Luke’s story. Here he brings to an end the story of the birth of the Messiah, in which He has no active part, while those involved, intimately or supportively, in his birth as a Jewish child, form a revolutionary community that looks forward to what He will be and do. They are already believers but have not yet experienced, as his parents soon will, the opposition to Him that will arise in their souls,  when He reveals God’s uncompromising justice and compassion. The sword is Luke’s image of this divine refusal to compromise; it occurs again in Luke 22: 36, where Jesus, facing death, advises his followers to equip themselves with swords, that is to learn how to refuse all compromise. Matthew’s Gospel 10:34 reports Jesus as saying that he has not come to bring pace but a sword, which in this case refers to putting discipleship before family.

Simeon has lived to see God’s salvation ( Greek soterion)  a joyful word which the Greek bible used to translate God’s “yeshua” his rescue or deliverance of his people, as from Egypt or Babylon. Jesus’ Hebrew name Y’shua bears this joyful significance.

In today’s passage there are the merest hints that the future is not all roses, but anyone who is thinking of following Jesus Messiah should pay attention to them.

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