There are lots and lots of stories in the Bible. Most of them deal with kings and priests and judges and prophets and patriarchs, all doing more or less great (and some of them very nefarious) deeds. They are intended to be stories about how things came to be the way they were, and stories meant to inspire those hearing them to do great deeds like David or Samson or Moses or any one of many heroes. Women on the other hand usually get a lot less publicity. We get Eve occasionally, we get Mary, especially around Christmas, but a lot of times, at least in the past, stories about women seldom showed up in the Sunday readings or even daily readings. That has been changing, and it is a very good thing.
We have a story today in the Eucharistic readings from Luke. Mary and Joseph have brought the 40-day-old Jesus to the temple as required by Jewish law, to make a sacrifice to God for the life of the boy. The first person that greets them is an old priest named Simeon who launches into what we call Nunc dimittis, “Lord now let thy servant depart in peace according to thy word, for mine eyes have seen thy salvation.” It’s a prayer done at every vespers, compline and evensong.
But there was a second person there, a woman named Anna, who was considered a prophetess. She lived in or near the temple, and was in the temple almost continuously fasting, praying and prophesying. She was a very old woman, probably somewhere between 84 and 105 in years. She had been married, but her husband lived only seven years before dying, leaving a young wife and seemingly no children. Some references claim that she remained alone for 84 years while others other translations put her at 84 years old when the story occurred. However it was, her age was one reason for her being so revered by the people while her wisdom and piety also set her apart as special.
She saw the little family come in and she began speaking to the people around her about this marvelous child, and she was praising God for having sent the child and for letting her see him. We do not have her exact words like we have Simeon’s. Anna’s job was done, and she disappeared into the mists, never to be heard of again.
It seems that in the world of the Bible some people were born simply to fulfill one thing, one gesture or one speech, one action, or one presentation of themselves. Anna seems to be this kind of person. She is there one minute gone the next, but she seems to have accomplished what she was supposed to do, namely speaking to the people about the redemption of Israel and the coming of this child who had a lot to do with that.
We seldom think of people in terms of one moment in time. We have so much information available that often we drown in information about someone who either said or did something remarkable. We know the names of doctors and scientists who made significant contributions to bettering the health of people, and will remember them for hundreds of years. We remember famous musicians and composers, and writers and poets, philosophers and theologians, but not usually for just one moment in time. We have information about the span of their entire lives in most cases, so there’s it is hard to pick out that epiphany moment when something that they said or something that they did immediately makes a change in our thinking and our actions.
Have you ever had a moment where your mind was a bit muddled or you were trying hard to actually come up with something nebulous that has been teasing your brain for a while? Then suddenly you hear or read something and suddenly something clicks, the fog rolls away, and you now have a clarification of what you have been trying to come up with in the first place? It happens, and it happens quite often, but we seldom really take note of it. We are in a hurry to get that thought down on paper before we forget it, or work out that calculation and get it to someone higher up the food chain who is been waiting for this breakthrough. It might have been in the middle of a speech and, if we are lucky, the media will pick up on that one thought, but how much more of the speech goes by the wayside because someone else decided something in that speech was more important than the one little bit that might have been what someone needed to hear or read. It happens a lot. We do seem to condense things into sound bytes, which is convenient, but which loses many of the nuances and some of these thinking points that we might be using for something that we have been searching for. A lot of people have been awakened during a sermon by hearing a Scripture verse that they might have forgotten that suddenly lights a lamp in their mind and something that was cloudy becomes clear. It happens quite frequently. Anna is one of those people who presents something that people need to hear and that is why we remember her, although we don’t know precisely what she said.
I think my challenge this week is to keep my ears open and eyes open for one of those tiny epiphanies that clarify something I might not even be aware of its cloudiness. Maybe it’s something that someone does that opens a window that I had no idea was even there. Maybe this week I should look for the Anna who calls attention to something and brings a message that someone else needs to hear, namely me.
It’s going to be an interesting week, that’s for sure.
Image: El Greco [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons