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And A Sword Will Pierce Through Your Own Soul Also…

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The Gospel according to St. Luke:

“Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. 26And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. 27And he came in the Spirit into the temple, and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the Law, 28he took him up in his arms and blessed God and said,

29“Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace,
according to your word;30for my eyes have seen your salvation31 that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,32a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.”

33And his father and his mother marveled at what was said about him. 34And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, “Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed 35(and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that the thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.”

Wow, Simeon pumped up these parents with such a majestic blessing, and then you hit them with a downer on how he is to be a sign that will be opposed, followed up with a sword piercing his mother’s soul. Who wants to see their own son ridiculed, rejected, and go through an enormous amount of suffering and have a ‘sword’ plunged through Mary’s soul, revealing the secrets of many hearts? How should Joseph and Mary respond? I think I know how I might respond. If this were to happen to me, I can picture myself giving a robust ‘Amen’, holding on to the lofty parts of Simeon’s prophecy, acknowledging that the Holy Spirit moved in our midst in the temple. But by the time I got home with my baby to live out the daily routine of a newborn waking us up at odd hours of the night, growing into a toddler that gets into everything, along with all that comes with raising up a child, my “Amen” that I gave in the temple all those years ago would most likely morph into, “Well whatever, we’ll see…” or a “ That’s ok, Lord- never mind” with the contention and the ‘sword’, in mind. Life for me would get in the way, causing me to heavily concentrate on my human condition leaving my previous ‘Amen’ to go dim. However, Luke’s gospel shows me that I am not alone in my human perception.

The word pierced in Luke 2:35 in the original Greek text is διελεύσεται, which is a verb in the third person, singular, future tense, literally meaning, “will go through”. This can give quite a different feel to the text than the use of English word “pierce” in the ESV translation. Also, Simeon is not referring to a needle by any means. He tells Mary that the child shall cause a sword to pass through her own soul, a figure that is made more graphic because the term chosen for sword, ῥομφαία, designates a very large, broad, two-edged sword.[1]

This waning ‘Amen’ is met with this sword and is evident in the actions of Mary and Joseph at Passover when Jesus is twelve years old.

Luke 2:41-50 reads:

“Now his parents went to Jerusalem every year at the Feast of the Passover. 42And when he was twelve years old, they went up according to custom. 43And when the feast was ended, as they were returning, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem. His parents did not know it, 44but supposing him to be in the group they went a day’s journey, but then they began to search for him among their relatives and acquaintances, 45and when they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem, searching for him. 46After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. 47And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. 48And when his parents saw him, they were astonished. And his mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us so? Behold, your father and I have been searching for you in great distress.” 49And he said to them, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” 50And they did not understand the saying that he spoke to them. 51And he went down with them and came to Nazareth and was submissive to them. And his mother treasured up all these things in her heart.”

The ‘sword’ is in her son’s response to her. It’s not merely a child responding to a mother’s question, but the sword is the very proclamation of the purpose of God. Jesus answers her with, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” Jesus reminds Mary, that he really isn’t solely her child to cling on to. He is the promised Messiah, The Son of God- Emmanuel. Her humanity is forgetting the divinity that she bore.

Therefore, let’s ask ourselves this: Where in our lives has our humanity forgotten his divinity? Where, like the Blessed Mother, have we fretted or slipped into hopelessness, or defaulted into thinking that God’s promises have become null and void, leaving whatever it is, up to ourselves to figure out? When Jesus appears to have run away from the agreed-upon path or seems to have abandoned his own plans for us, do we remember the Psalter’s exaltation of the greatness of our God’s faithfulness?

The text continues with expressing how Mary and Joseph don’t get it. They don’t understand their son’s response. What a bizarre and mysterious comment from a twelve-year-old! In the rest of the passage, Mary says nothing else. Luke 2:51 states, “And his mother treasured up all these things in her heart.” The whole ordeal has left her contemplating. She lost her son, who caused much anxiety and agony, found him in the temple, and his response of God’s purpose overrides her momentary distress. Yes, her son is safe but better yet, her God is steadfast!

The sword that we read about in Luke’s gospel echoes as the judgment of God that exposes that contention between the will of God and the will of the flesh. Today in a post-Christian society, many well-meaning Christians do not like to link the word ‘judgment’ with God. For some, it is more comfortable to attribute ‘Love’ to God. But here in Luke, we see that the judgment of God is the very love that separates what is the will of God, from what is not in the lives of the Beloved. Mary accepted the heralding of her son via the archangel Gabriel with great joy as we see in the Magnificat, but she is tempered with sobering reality as she watches the life of her son unfold. She discerns that God’s thoughts are higher than her own. The work of the sword, no doubt brings division, yet is the very thing that reveals who truly lives with a pierced soul; these are souls that do the will of the Father. As Jesus shows us in Luke 8:21, “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it.” This ‘family’ of Jesus will be recognized by the ‘sword’ pierced through their souls enabling them to adhere to God’s word.

This Lent, let’s be so bold to ask The Lord to pierce our own souls, revealing the thoughts of our hearts that we may or may not be even aware of: thoughts of worry, anxiety, hopelessness, pride, and self-sufficiency in exchange for the sword of God’s will that will hush these adversarial thoughts which attempt to scream over God’s word to us. Let us joyfully trust with obedience that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ. And yes, lets us also say with Job, “Though he slay me, yet will I trust him”. May we receive the gift of a pierced soul, which will enable our hearts to beat in rhythm with the last words of Mary recorded in Scripture, “Do whatever he tells you tells you” (John 2:5).

[1] Luce 1933: 103: Plummer 1896: 71; BAGD 737; Baa 1475; Michaelis, TDNT 4:525 n. 14, 6:995 SSB1 and n. 17

The Rev. Dr. Nicole Foster the T.V. Host and founding minister of The Hippie Theologian. She holds a Doctor of Ministry from Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry, a Master of Divinity from Redeemer Theological Seminary and a B.A. in History from Southern Methodist University. She’s an ordained Anglican minister and teaches Old Testament for various organizations. She loves to hike, camp, make organic soap, and be a beach bum as often as possible.

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