Connections 12.31.2017: Jesus and the Elderly

Luke 2:22, 25-40

I turned forty this year, and I’m grateful to be able to say that I still have one living set of grandparents. My father’s parents, known to me as Mom and Pop, are age eighty-three and ninety-three. They’ve been a huge part of my life since my birth. My family has always lived in the same town where they reside, and for the latter half of my growing-up years we lived across the street from them. Today, my parents are still in that home, next-door neighbors to my grandparents.

In the early years of my life, Mom and Pop were bold, vibrant, attractive people in their forties and fifties. When Pop retired from his job at the local railroad, the two of them decided to open a gift shop in their small town. They ran it successfully for more than ten years, and I spent a couple of those years working at the ice cream shop that adjoined their store. They traveled widely together, even taking my sister and me on a trip to San Francisco when we were preteens. They put in an enormous swimming pool, and, along with our brother, we spent many summer days at their house, staying cool and enjoying the water.

Needless to say, time has wrinkled their faces, thinned their hair, and bent their bodies. They have both endured numerous health issues, from broken hips and hip replacement surgery to stomach troubles and other pains. Their shop has long been closed. They no longer travel except to be driven to the doctor’s office. Our conversations are more about their difficulties than their activities. Life has not always been kind, but they have survived it and often thrived in it.

When I picture Simeon and Anna from our lesson text, I see Mom and Pop. Pop notices the young couple and their baby and makes his way over slowly, steadying himself with his walker. His shoulders, usually bent, straighten as he nears them, and his normally feeble hands become strong once again as he takes Jesus in his arms. His face, which often looks tired, brightens with joy at this long-awaited promise. Mom, who feels the weight of the world more heavily than Pop, waits for the couple to come to her. Unlike Anna, Mom has been married to a man for nearly seventy years—one who has walked through so many stages of life with her. She smiles at the child and immediately begins to tell everyone around her about him. The peace on her face is such a sweet gift to me, as I’ve so often seen her weary and sad.

I love this story about little Jesus being held and admired by people in their senior years of life. Our culture tends to value youth over age, spontaneity over consistency, and energy over wisdom. How beautiful it is that, only a few weeks after the first Christmas that happened so long ago, Jesus’ parents showed honor and respect toward two people who had lived many years and seen many things. May we show similar regard for the “Moms” and “Pops” in our lives.

Discussion

1. What elderly people are extra special to you? Why do you regard them so highly?
2. How does your church view the elderly? In what ways do they participate in church life?
3. How does your church minister to elderly people who can’t make it to worship services?
4. Why do you think it was important to the writer of Luke to tell this story about Jesus meeting Simeon and Anna? What does it communicate about the value of older people in the life of faith?
5. How can you thank a senior adult for the ways he or she has affected your life in Christ?

Reference Shelf

Simeon, who recognizes that God has fulfilled the promise to him and that his dismissal is now at hand, sends Mary and Joseph away with a blessing, and with a cryptic oracle to Mary:

Look, this one is set
for the falling and rising of many in Israel and
for a disputed sign
and your own soul will be pierced through with a sword
so that the reasonings of the hearts of many may be revealed.

The terms of the oracle are sufficiently general that the reader can see it fulfilled over and over in Luke. Some people respond favorably to Jesus, while others do not. Some who listen to him teach want to kill him afterward (4:29), while others are amazed and want to prevent his ever leaving them (4:42). Some will be healed or literally raised from the dead, resulting in the word spreading that Jesus is a prophet (7:11-17). Others, hearing the same news, will have only more questions (7:18-19); Jesus’ deeds are certainly “disputed signs.” Jesus often knows the intents and internal disputes of his opponents (5:22; 6:8) and reveals them by his teachings and actions, sometimes even seeming deliberately to provoke angry reactions.

The last two lines—which in Greek appear in the order given in the translation above, but which are often inverted by translators—are the head-scratcher parts of the oracle. If “your own soul will be pierced through with a sword” is to be related to the lines that surround it, then it should say something about how the disputes over Jesus and his way of revealing people’s hidden thoughts are like a sword through Mary’s heart. Perhaps we are to imagine that Jesus’ mother is hurt by the cruel things others say about him. Some suggest that she is cast here as the personification of Israel, so that the sword through her heart is a more personal version of the sort of division Jesus brings to the people (13:51); she suffers as her people suffer when they are unable or unwilling to hear God’s word through Jesus. A third possibility relates to Jesus’ death. Luke describes Mary as a faithful believer (8:21) who stuck by Jesus and who, with his brothers, was a charter member of the Jerusalem church (Acts 1:14). This being the case, the reader could also take the “sword” statement to refer to the grief Mary suffered when Jesus’ enemies conspired to have him crucified. Perhaps, like most oracles, this is meant to be subject to many readings and to being fulfilled on several levels.

Simeon is joined this day by Anna, a prophet, who is identified to the reader by her father’s name and by her tribe. Contrast this with the way Mary is earlier introduced, where we only know her name, the name of her town, and her fiancé’s name; there, Luke was making the point that Mary’s credentials were not her family line but her willingness to be obedient to God’s call. Anna, on the other hand, is given all the markers of respectability to increase the effect of her testimony to Jesus. By naming Anna’s tribe as Asher, Luke also lets the reader know that Anna was not from a priestly family, although she was very devoted to the temple. She remained unmarried after her husband’s death, devoting herself for her long life to the worship of God in the temple, and like the shepherds, became a witness to the great thing that God was doing through Jesus.

Richard B. Vinson, Luke, Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary (Macon GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2008) 71-72.

Kelley Land, a graduate of Mercer University, has been an assistant editor for Smyth & Helwys curriculum and books since 2001. She attends church and leads an adult Sunday school class in Macon, Georgia. She is also the office administrator for Jay’s HOPE, a local charity serving families of children with cancer. Kelley enjoys spending time with her daughters, Samantha (12) and Natalie (10) and her husband John. For fun, she tries to stay caught up on the latest amazing TV series (including Doctor Who, Sherlock, Gilmore Girls, and The Crown).

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