The atmosphere of Luke’s two chapters about the circumstances of Jesus’ birth is very much that of the world of the Hebrew scriptures.The evangelist emphasises that the Messiah grew up in a family and social setting steeped in the traditions of Israel. His “parents” and the elderly couple in today’s Gospel episode represent all that is best in the people, those who are open to the Spirit and to the word of God. Luke mentions five times “the Law of the Lord” which underlines their fidelity to the practice of their religion. The scene takes place at the very heart of Israel’s religious focus, the Temple in Jerusalem.
Simeon is a prophet who indicates in his song that the mission of Jesus will provoke different reactions: those who encounter Jesus will have to decide whether to accept him and his message or not. Mary represents the people of Israel, and the sword which will pierce her soul represents the act of judgement or discernment which will accompany this encounter: it is the blade which will penetrate the deepest part of the person to see what she or he is made of, to discover the decision they have come to about Jesus and his message. It is out of those who welcome Jesus, like Simeon and Anna, that the new people of God will be composed. Luke notes that the family returns to Nazareth and that the child grew up like any other, so the Son of God was a true human being.
Luke’s infancy narrative has been called “the Gospel in miniature”: all the main themes which will appear in the story of Jesus and his ministry are stated here and developed later. One motif which emerges from today’s readings is the division which Jesus will cause among his hearers. Not everyone by any means will react in a positive way and their hostility will lead to his death on the cross. Each person will have to decide whether to accept Jesus or not. Those who welcome him will form the new people of God.
No one in the Gospel story is a disciple in isolation: even Peter is one of the circle of disciples. Although each disciple has a personal relationship with Jesus the Master, we are all members of a wider group, which we call the Church. Luke emphasises that the righteous characters in the story of Jesus are faithful members of Israel, deeply attached and devoted to the traditions of their people. The purpose of such practices is to bring them close to God and to deepen their commitment. We might remember that the definition of the Church today is “the people of God”. The purpose of our celebrating the Eucharist together is not just to celebrate our faith (or simply to fulfil an obligation) but also to give support to our fellow parishioners. If someone is struggling, it can be an immense help and encouragement to see others turning up every week.
Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord. (Traditional song)
The name Jesus (and its Hebrew form Joshua) means “the Lord saves”.
Luke often pairs a male and female character in his writing, for example Simeon and Anna. The sword which will pierce Mary’s soul is the sword of judgement, not of sorrow.
Look around at the other people at the Eucharist: consider how your presence can be a support to someone who is struggling – and they to you.