Veronica Lawson, RSM
This year the Feast of the Presentation falls on a Sunday and takes precedence over the celebration of the Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time. We might ask why this feast is of such importance in the liturgical calendar. Between the story of Jesus’ birth and the beginning of his ministry, Luke inserts three stories. The first tells of Jesus’ circumcision on the eighth day after his birth. The third story has Jesus teaching in the Jerusalem Temple at twelve years of age. He has come with his parents on pilgrimage to Jerusalem to celebrate the great feast of Passover. Luke notes that the family makes this pilgrimage from Nazareth in Galilee to Jerusalem every year. The second story, today’s reading, has Mary and Joseph presenting their child in the Temple forty days after his birth, in observance of the Law of Moses (as prescribed in Leviticus 12:2-8). This Sunday marks the fortieth day since the celebration of Jesus’ birth: it is not a moveable feast. All three stories locate Jesus and his parents firmly within the tradition as law-observant, faithful Jews.
Luke introduces into today’s story two faith-filled wisdom figures, first a man, Simeon, and then a woman prophet, Anna. Both witness to the identity and future ministry of the child presented this day in the Temple. Their witness provides a microcosm of the gospel story. Simeon, guided by the Holy Spirit, comes into the Temple, takes the child in his arms and utters some of the most memorable words in the Christian scriptures. The child is to be God’s saving presence in the world, a light to give revelation to the nations and glory to Israel. There are echoes in this proclamation of Isaiah 49:6 which speaks of God’s servant bringing light to the nations and salvation to the ends of the earth. There is also an echo of Isaiah 46:13 where God is said to bring salvation to Jerusalem and glory to Israel. Simeon declares that this child is destined for the rising and the falling of many, that he will experience opposition and that his mother too will know deep sorrow.
Anna, like Simeon, raises her voice in the courts of the Jerusalem Temple, the heart of Israel’s religious, political and economic power. While Simeon is given direct prophetic speech, Anna’s prophesying is recounted indirectly. While Elizabeth and Mary proclaim prophetic words, Anna is the only woman in Luke’s gospel to be named as “prophet”. This woman prophet proclaims the good news of salvation in Jesus. The verbal form used indicates that Anna “keeps on speaking” about the child to “all who await the redemption of Jerusalem.” The invitation here might be for us to emulate Anna’s courage and persistence as we enter the halls of power and seek to move the hearts of religious and political leaders to compassion and justice for all those displaced within the Earth community.