Veronica Lawson RSM
The start of today’s gospel reading has often been misconstrued as the ‘purification’ of Mary. Luke implies that Mary and Joseph come to the temple to be purified, although purification after childbirth applied only to women (Leviticus 12). Vestiges of the Jewish purification ritual survived until recently in the practice of ‘churching’ mothers and blessing their children, but any suggestion that childbirth renders women unclean has been and must always be rejected. The story’s main focus, however, is the child whose law-abiding Jewish parents present him to God.
There are echoes here of the story of the prophet Samuel whose parents presented him to God in the temple of Shiloh. There may also be an allusion to Israel’s consecration of the first-born male (Ex 13:12).
Two prophetic figures, Simeon and Anna, play key roles in the drama that unfolds: they are among the first human characters in Luke’s gospel to interpret the meaning of the child’s birth. Simeon is a ‘just and devout’ man, guided by God’s Spirit. Recognising Jesus as the anointed of God and the child’s appearance in the Temple as the fulfilment of God’s word to him, he takes the child in his arms and praises God.
For Simeon, Jesus is the salvation of God, a light for revelation to the nations and the glory of Israel. Simeon blesses Mary and Joseph, then turns his attention to Mary. His words to her echo Ezekiel 14 which speaks of a sword of division in the land: the child will be a sign of contradiction and Mary will experience in her own life the pain of struggling to understand her son.
Simeon is given direct prophetic speech, but Anna’s temple prophesying is recounted indirectly. She is the only named woman prophet in the Lukan gospel, although both Elizabeth and Mary utter prophetic words. This prophesying woman proclaims the good news of salvation in Jesus. The tense of the verb used indicates that Anna ‘keeps on speaking’ about this child of God to ‘all who await the redemption of Jerusalem’.
Anna, like Simeon, raises her voice in the courts of the temple, the centre of Israel’s religious, political and economic power. We might emulate Anna’s courage and persistence as we enter the halls of power and seek to move today’s religious and political leaders to compassion and justice for the displaced of our world.