Living with Luke (7): Luke 2:21-40

            Luke the Evangelist
 is traditionally symbolized by a winged ox or bull –
             a figure of sacrifice, service and strength.                                                                                                        The ox signifies that Christians should be prepared to sacrifice themselves in following Christ.

2:21-40: Simeon and Anna

21 When eight days had passed, Jesus’ parents circumcised him and gave him the name Jesus. This was the name given to him by the angel before he was conceived. 22 When the time came for their ritual cleansing, in accordance with the Law from Moses, they brought Jesus up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord. (23 It’s written in the Law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male will be dedicated to the Lord.”) 24 They offered a sacrifice in keeping with what’s stated in the Law of the Lord, A pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.[a]
25 A man named Simeon was in Jerusalem. He was righteous and devout. He eagerly anticipated the restoration of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. 26 The Holy Spirit revealed to him that he wouldn’t die before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. 27 Led by the Spirit, he went into the temple area. Meanwhile, Jesus’ parents brought the child to the temple so that they could do what was customary under the Law. 28 Simeon took Jesus in his arms and praised God. He said,
29 “Now, master, let your servant go in peace according to your word,
30     because my eyes have seen your salvation.
31 You prepared this salvation in the presence of all peoples.
32 It’s a light for revelation to the Gentiles
    and a glory for your people Israel.”
33 His father and mother were amazed by what was said about him. 34 Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, “This boy is assigned to be the cause of the falling and rising of many in Israel and to be a sign that generates opposition 35 so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your innermost being too.”
36 There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, who belonged to the tribe of Asher. She was very old. After she married, she lived with her husband for seven years. 37 She was now an 84-year-old widow. She never left the temple area but worshipped God with fasting and prayer night and day. 38 She approached at that very moment and began to praise God and to speak about Jesus to everyone who was looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.
39 When Mary and Joseph had completed everything required by the Law of the Lord, they returned to their hometown, Nazareth in Galilee. 40 The child grew up and became strong. He was filled with wisdom, and God’s favor was on him.

Named as instructed by the angel, circumcised by his parents, the day had come when the baby Jesus was to be presented, or dedicated to the Lord according to the Law (vv.22-23).  They bring him right into the heart of what will turn out to be his most intransigent opposition – the Temple and its leaders. 

But it is not so yet, while the child is young.  The child and his parents meet first an aged, “righteous” and “devout” man who longed for the “restoration of Israel.”  Filled with the Spirit, and made known by him that death would not come to him until he had seen the “Lord’s Christ” (Messiah).  Led by the same Spirit to be in the Temple at the very time Mary, Joseph, and Jesus arrived, he knew when he saw the baby that this one was, indeed, the Messiah.

Inspired, Simeon takes the child in his arms, praises God in terms of the presence of his infant Messiah.  This Messiah is praised in terms of the Abrahamic blessing we have already encountered several times in Luke: “(His salvation) is a light for revelation to the Gentiles and a glory for your people Israel” (v.32).  The glory of Israel is to be the vehicle of God’s blessing to the Gentiles.  And just this Simeon foresees in the work of this child!

The old man senses the parents’ amazement at this prophetic word.  He blesses them, turns to Mary and issues a further rather disturbing word about her baby.  This child, he tells her, will be a divison point, a person of contention for many in Israel.  Their response to him will reveal where their hearts are.  Further, his contested status will pierce Mary’s heart too.

Next the couple meets Anna, an 84 year-old widowed prophet, who spent her life worshiping, fasting, and praying.  She too acclaims the child as “the redemption of Israel” (v.38).  The Spirit is not explicitly mentioned here, though Anna’s status as an obviously “true” prophet by her recognition of who Jesus is marks her too among all the characters we have met so far in Luke as “filled with the Spirit.”

Luke’s emphasis on the Spirit in these opening chapters of Luke leads Luke Timothy Johnson to three conclusions.  First, the agent behind the story he is telling is God.  In and through this child it is God who visits           his people.  Secondly, the response people make to this divine visitation marks out the true people of God.  Response to the Spirit, then, rather than ethnicity, is decisive for belonging to the “true” Israel.  Lastly, Jesus was nurtured among a matrix of prophets.  From his birth, Israel’s prophetic traditions saturated his growth and understanding. (Johnson, Prophetic Jesus, Prophetic Church, 56)

Thus, when we read the concluding line of this section, “The child grew up and became strong. He was filled with wisdom, and God’s favor was on him” (v.40), we should hear it not as a general statement about Jesus but rather a claim that he’s being brought up within an understanding of Israel’s faith driven by God promise to Abraham to bless the Gentiles through the people of Israel.

          And when we see in the next two chapters that Jesus himself is baptized and led by the Spirit and claims that the promise of Isaiah 61, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,” was fulfilled in him, we will not be surprised.  We will understand Jesus in this same Spirit-driven tradition of prophecy that Luke has painstakingly limned out for us.


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