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Gospel for Sunday, December 27: Luke 2: 25-38

SIMEON AND ANNA

25And behold, in Jerusalem there was a man named Simeon, a righteous and God-fearing man, who was waiting for the comfort of Israel; 26the Holy Spirit who was above him had foretold him that he would not see death without first having seen the Lord’s Messiah. 27Moved therefore by the Spirit, he went to the temple; and while the parents brought the baby Jesus there to fulfill the Law, 28he took him in his arms and blessed God: 29“Now let your servant go in peace, O Lord, according to your word; 30because my eyes have seen your salvation, 31prepared by you before all peoples, 32light to enlighten the people and glory of your people Israel”.33Jesus’ father and mother were amazed at the things that were said about him. 34Simeon blessed them and spoke to Mary, his mother: “He is here for the ruin and resurrection of many in Israel, a sign of contradiction so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed. 35And a sword will pierce your soul too”.36There was also a prophetess, Anna, daughter of Phanuèle, of the tribe of Asher. She was very advanced in age, she had lived with her husband seven years from the time she was a girl, she had then been widowed and was now eighty-four years old. 37He never left the temple, serving God night and day with fasting and prayers. 38Arriving at that moment, she also began to praise God and spoke about the child to those waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem.

Luke 2: 25-38

Dear Sisters and Brothers of the Misericordie, I am Carlo Miglietta, doctor, biblical scholar, layman, husband, father and grandfather (www.buonabibbiaatutti.it).

Also today I share with you a short meditation thought on the Gospel, with special reference to the theme of mercy.

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From: C. MIGLIETTA, AGING ACCORDING TO GOD. Manual for a blessed old age: old age, death, resurrection, eternal life. Gribaudi, Milan, September 2020.

We must focus on the figures of Simeon and Anna, because the New Testament proposes them as a model of the elderly believer.

“And behold, in Jerusalem there was a man named Simeon”: the text begins with that “And behold” (idoù) which often in the Gospel of Luke introduces a revelation, an extraordinary intervention of God.

The name Simeon calls for listening: Sim’on in Hebrew means “He who listens”. Simeon is a man of listening, who immerses himself in meditation on the Sacred Scripture, which he recalls twice: “All the ends of the earth will see the salvation of our God” (Is 52.10), and: “I will give you light of the nations so that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth” (Is 49:6). He is a man accustomed to reading the Bible which he knows how to actualize in his life, understanding that he himself is savoring the salvation of the Lord in the fragile flesh of that newborn baby presented to the Temple.

He is a man indwelt by the Holy Spirit: three times the action of his Spirit is spoken of: “The Holy Spirit was upon him” (Lk 2.25); “The Holy Spirit had foretold to him that he would not see death before he had seen the Messiah” (Lk 2,26); “Therefore moved by the Spirit he went to the Temple” (Lk 2,27). Simeon is a man who delved into Scripture, and then allowed himself to be filled by the Holy Spirit, and became a prophet.

He is a man who, even in his old age, continues to hope, to wait: “He looked forward to the consolation of Israel” (Lk 2:25). “Let us ask ourselves if within us there is the expectation of salvation, the desire to see the glory of his people and the light of the people” (C. M. Martini [1]).

Simeone is not a man closed in on himself, closed in on his past: he is open to the future. He is capable of wonder, of amazement. He is not a man tired and embittered by life, jealous of the past, distrustful, fearful: he is a person open to the new, capable of dreaming, projected into the future. “It is not easy for the old within us to welcome the child, the new… The old Simeon who embraces a child… represents each of us in the face of the newness of God. This newness will really enter our lives or rather we will try to put together old and new, trying to let ourselves be disturbed as little as possible by the presence of the newness of God?” (C. M. Martini[2]).

Simeone is also a welcoming man, capable of tenderness, who gently takes that little child into his arms. He is indeed a weak man, but his weakness, thanks to his spiritual maturation, has become meekness and humility. “Simeon says: «My eyes have seen your salvation» (Lk 2,30). He sees the Child and he sees salvation. He does not see the Messiah performing wonders, but a little child. He does not see something extraordinary, but Jesus with his parents, who bring two turtledoves or two pigeons to the temple, that is, the most humble offering [3]. Simeon sees the simplicity of God and welcomes his presence. He does not seek anything else, he does not ask and does not want more, it is enough for him to see the Child and take him in his arms: “Nunc dimittis, now you can let me go” (Lk 2.29). God as he is is enough for him. In Him we find the ultimate meaning of life” (Pope Francis[4]).

“Mary brings the Expected One and places him in the arms of the elderly Simeon. The gift is mutual: She gives the Promise and fills the heart of the Old Man, consoles him for the long wait, for that accumulation of suffering that every Israelite heart carries to prepare the way for the Messiah who comes. He blesses the Lord, the Child and the Mother with that blessing with which God blessed Abraham and in his name all his descendants. An ancient liturgical antiphon of the Feast of the Presentation in the Temple sings: “The old man carried the Child, but the Child directed the old man.” The meeting of generations finds its full realization in this mutual service. The gift, the affection, the help do not only come from one side, just as the future, the strength, the life do not belong to a single generation. The Child gave meaning to Simeon’s long life already lived and a light on what awaited him, a direction, a purpose; He enlightened him by making him understand in depth what he had received throughout his life: the hope of seeing the Messiah. At the same time, in front of a child Simeon had to change his outlook on waiting for him: the Messiah did not present himself as Israel had expected him, a powerful liberator. She was a fragile creature who could be placed in his arms, who leaned on him, who almost depended on him, on his attention and on his care… Mary and Joseph were not passive spectators. In the grandparents-grandchildren relationship, parents have a huge role. They too carry and are guided” (C. Faletti[5]).

Simeon above all is a man who prays. Even though he feels close to death, he is not a man who regrets to God for the present decay, but he is capable of thanksgiving, of praise, of blessing. Luke puts a wonderful hymn on his lips, the “Nunc dimittis”. Upon closer inspection, Simeon is not asking for something: “Now leave”: the verb àpolùeis in fact means: “Now you are loosening my bonds”. Simeon states that the Lord made him reach the pinnacle of fullness in the contemplation of that child in his arms, and therefore “he is untying his servant”: apolùo is the verb that indicates to liberate, to untie, and apolutròsis is the redemption, ransom, salvation[6]. The experience of God that he has in that newborn is for him liberation towards peace, it is the fullness and fulfillment of his life.

“Now”: “Now, now, at this moment. What we now experience is the starting point of all our prayers… Now, now, in this moment, God wants to manifest himself in our lives, despite everything, precisely through the darkness that furrows our experience” (C. M. Martini[7]) .

And precisely because Simeon is experiencing the God who comes in totality, the “Nunc dimittis” is also the prayer of an elderly man who is serenely preparing to die. Simeone openly challenges the taboos of modern man, who rejects the concept of aging and tries to remove the thought of death. Simeon turns to the Lord whom he defines as the “Master” of his life, despòtes in Greek. And he recognizes that he has lived a full life, in which he was able to fully experience the power of God. He then becomes aware that the Lord is giving him permission to leave, to abandon his service to God, to enter into well-deserved rest. eternal: àpolùeis also means to dismiss, dismiss, exempt from a service. Simeon does not shy away from death, but places it in continuity with his entire life, aware that even death will be a moment of further revelation of that God who he has always sought and loved and who has accompanied him since his birth. He has always trusted God, and he trusts him even in this extreme moment: “according to your Word (katà to rèma tou)” (Lk 2,29). As Jesus will do in his great “yes” on the cross: “Now Father, into your hands I commend my spirit” (Lk 23.46).

Simeon therefore, defined by scripture as a “just man” (Lk 2.25), that is, in profound intimacy with God, and “God-fearing” (Lk 2.25), that is, humble before the Creator, is the perfect example of kalògheros, the “Calogero” of the oriental tradition, that is, the elderly kalos, beautiful, fully realized by the life of Faith and obedient discipleship[8].

Anna is also an example of aging according to God. It is no coincidence that Luke says of her: “Anna, daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher” (Lk 2:36). In these three personal names the story of this woman is already contained: Anna in fact in Hebrew means “favor”, “grace”, Phanuel means “face of God”, “vision of God”, or even “who sees God”, Asher means “happy”, “blessed”, “blessed”. In fact, Anna is “graced” and she has the joy of “seeing God” in the newborn baby presented to the Temple, and she therefore becomes truly “blessed”. She “she was eighty-four years old” (Lk 2,37), that is, seven, which indicates perfection, for twelve, which expresses a complete temporal cycle: she has truly reached the fullness of her existence.

Anna is one of the ‘anawìm, of the “poor” of God, because widowhood, in a period in which there were no reversibility pensions or other social safety nets, was often a condition of poverty, of lack of protection, of great weakness. But Anna had taken refuge in the Lord, and she had entrusted her existence to him: all her life she had remained in the Temple praying and fasting. And so she had become a prophetess, a woman capable of grasping the signs of God in the present. And she begins to “speak about the child to those who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem” (Lk 2.38): as an old woman, she is even more of an evangelizer, missionary, prophetess. Pope Francis said of her: “The prophetess Anna was a very old woman, who had lived many years as a widow, but she was not gloomy, nostalgic or withdrawn into herself; on the contrary, she arrives, she praises God and speaks only of Him [9]. I like to think that this woman “chatted well”, and against the evil of chatter she would be a good patroness to convert us, because she went from one side to the other just saying: “That’s it! It’s that baby! Go and see it! I like to see her like this, like a neighborhood woman”[10]; “Anna, «also began to praise God» (Lk 2,38) and to go and point out Jesus to the people. This is a saintly chatterbox, she chattered well, she chattered about good things, not bad things. She said, she announced: a saint who went from one woman to another, making them see Jesus. These figures of believers are surrounded by amazement, because they allowed themselves to be captured and involved by the events that were happening before their eyes” [11].

Sometimes parents must remain silent to be accepted by their children, while the elderly can speak more frankly: “With children at a certain point it is necessary to enter into a certain silence, not in the falseness of denial, but in the wise discretion of those who want to respect the struggle of faith of young people. We learn very often that the only spiritual accompaniment that a parent can continue to offer is incessant prayer, so that God may manifest himself in the hearts of his children and seduce them. In this field, grandparents have greater freedom of expression and can say things that parents can no longer say. I do not want to speak of a moralistic discourse, of a bitter criticism of the behavior of young people, which not even grandparents must allow themselves, but of the open testimony of the strength of faith, of the serenity and joy that it gives, of the freedom in the face of events and the trust that allows and generates an inner peace, which everyone seeks through the turmoil and storms of the daily sea” (C. Faletti[12]).

Anna is also a “beautiful” old woman, because she knows how to live life “never leaving the Temple” (Lk 2.37), that is, in the presence of the Lord, realizing what Psalm 91 proclaims: “The righteous will flourish like a palm tree, it will grow like a cedar of Lebanon; planted in the house of the Lord, they will flourish in the courts of our God. In old age they will still bear fruit, they will be well and flourishing, to announce how upright the Lord is: my rock, in him there is no injustice” (Ps 91,13-16 ).

Pope Francis concludes: “The Gospel comes to us with a very beautiful, moving and encouraging image. It is the image of Simeon and Anna, of whom the Gospel of the infancy of Jesus composed by Saint Luke tells us. They were certainly elderly, the “old” Simeon and the “prophetess” Anna, who was 84 years old. She did not hide this woman’s age. The Gospel says that they had been waiting for the coming of God every day, with great faithfulness, for many years. They really wanted to see it that day, grasp the signs, sense its beginning. Perhaps they were also a little resigned, by now, to dying earlier: that long wait, however, continued to occupy their entire lives, they had no more important commitments than this: waiting for the Lord and praying. Well, when Mary and Joseph arrived at the temple to fulfill the provisions of the Law, Simeon and Anna moved forward, animated by the Holy Spirit[13]. The weight of age and waiting disappeared in a moment. They recognized the Child, and discovered a new strength, for a new task: to give thanks and bear witness for this Sign of God. Simeon improvised a beautiful hymn of jubilation[14] – he was a poet at that time – and Anna became the first preacher of Jesus: «she spoke about the child to those waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem» (Lk 2,38)”[15].

[1] Martini C. M., Something so personal. Meditations on prayer, Mondadori, Milan, 2009, pg. 35

[2] Martini C. M., Something so personal. Meditations on prayer, Mondadori, Milan, 2009, pp. 32-33

[3] Luke 2:24

[4] Pope Francis, Holy Mass on the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord and XXIII World Day of Consecrated Life, 4 February 2019

[5] Faletti C., Simeone and Anna. Two “successful” elderly people, Pra d’Mill (CN), http://www.cpm-italia.it/documenti/riflessibiblicaCesareFalletti.pdf

[6] Rom 3.24

[7] Martini C. M., Something so personal. Meditations on prayer, Mondadori, Milan, 2009, pg. 32

[8] Manicardi L., Simeon, old age and Faith, Journal of the Italian Clergy, 23 February 2017

[9] Luke 2.38

[10] Pope Francis, Holy Mass on the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord and XXIII World Day of Consecrated Life, 4 February 2019

[11] Pope Francis, Angelus, 2 February 2020

[12] Faletti C., Simeone and Anna. Two “successful” elderly people, Pra d’Mill (CN), http://www.cpm-italia.it/documenti/riflessibiblicaCesareFalletti.pdf

[13] cf. Lk 2:27

[14] cf. Lk 2:29-32

[15] Pope Francis, Wednesday General Audience, 11 March 2015

Happy Mercy to all!

Anyone who would like to read a more complete exegesis of the text, or some insights, please ask me at migliettacarlo@gmail.com.

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