26 March 2017Luke 2:33-35
“And a sword will pierce your own soul too.” (v. 35)
Psalm: Psalm 34
Today is Mothering Sunday, and many of our churches will be filled with daffodils as we give thanks for our mothers and all they have given us. Yet for some, Mothering Sunday brings regret as well as joy, as we remember mothers who are no longer with us; as we think about children who are lost to us, or who are living in ways we find hard to understand; as we grapple with hopes and dreams that have not come to fruition in the ways we longed for.
All these conflicting emotions are caught up in these few verses. Mary and Joseph brought Jesus to the temple 40 days after his birth, according to the Jewish law. They brought the offering prescribed for poor people (Luke 2:24; compare with Leviticus 12:6-8). For a faithful Jewish couple like them, this would have been a God-given opportunity to give thanks for the birth of their son. Yet with Simeon's words, the scene takes a very different turn.
Simeon was a man of God, full of the Holy Spirit, full of hope that God would comfort Israel (Luke 2:25). The Spirit had revealed to him that he would not die until he had seen the Messiah. Was it a surprise to him that the revelation focused on a baby, six weeks old? In response, he prophesied in the words sometimes known as the Nunc Dimittis, celebrating the gift of the child who will be "a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel" (Luke 2:32). Then, in the verses we read today, he turned directly to the child's parents and focused his attention on Mary.
His first words must have brought Mary a jolt of surprise. She had sung of a God who had "brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly" (Luke 1:52). Now Simeon was speaking in a similar way about her son. What would it mean for her child to be central to God's programme of transformation and reversal? Simeon was quick to spell out the implications. Jesus would be a controversial figure - "a sign that will be opposed" (v. 34)- and Mary's own heart would be pierced by a sword. And before this chapter of the Gospel ends, that piercing had already begun, with the story of Mary and Joseph's frantic search for their twelve-year-old son, lost in Jerusalem - and his blunt words "Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father's house?" (Luke 2:49). The shadow of the cross was already on the little family; but so was the reassurance that this is held within God's purposes.
- What might Mary and Joseph have said to each other, one-to-one, about this encounter?
- How far does our society use the images and language of motherhood helpfully?
- When the sword of pain pierces us, where do Christians find comfort?