I was young then. About the age of the young couple who brought their son to the Temple to be circumcised. They were clearly not from Jerusalem. Their dress and speech made them out to be Galileans. Probably they had come south because of the registration for the Roman tax. Someone I talked to heard that they had been staying in Beit Lechem for the past week or so. That was where the child had been born, and now they had traveled the twelve miles into Jerusalem to keep the Law.
I don’t know that the Romans were going to get much of a tax out of this couple. He was clearly a laborer, possibly a stonemason or a carpenter, judging from his muscular build and the callouses on his hands. He was no stranger to a hammer and possibly a saw. I noticed how he looked at the Temple with an appraising eye, as if he knew of the workmanship that had gone into the building for the past twenty years.
Actually, the Temple itself was torn down and replaced in a year and a half. That alone would have amazed this man, as it did all who had feared that once Herod tore down the old Temple he would not build a new one. But work was still going on; the outbuildings are still being constructed these forty years later. Over 1,000 priests were occupied in the construction of the buildings.When a Tzaddik like Simeon declares Messiah has come, people listen. This mother and father were clearly affected. Priests, not carpenters and masons, because only priests could enter the Temple proper. Still, this man must have admired the work they had done.
He was a poor man, though. I don’t know what caught my attention about this couple; maybe just that they had come with a baby. Nevertheless, I noticed them buying turtledoves for the sacrifice. That is how I knew the Romans would probably get less out of them than they had spent traveling for the registration. The sacrifices for a newborn are very specific, and turtledoves are only a last resort for the poor. Since then I have even known some people who would borrow money to buy a lamb, just so people would not know how poor they really were.
As a result of whatever intrigued me about this couple in the beginning, I followed them from the animal sellers into the inner court. It was there I observed two unusual incidents. If I had been intrigued before, now I became obsessed. So much so, in fact, that I have spent the rest of my life keeping track of the young child. A few words in the Temple court actually changed the course of my life.
Simeon was famous in the Temple. Even as young as I was, I knew the stories about Simeon. Some might have thought he was crazy. Most, however, said he had received a message from God. I don’t know what he was like in his younger days, but as an old man he was famous as a devout man, a true Tzaddik (a righteous man). He said he was only alive because he was awaiting the Messiah. He could be seen throughout Jerusalem, helping the poor, but he was most often seen in the Temple courts. Nor was today an exception. In fact, his talmidim or disciples were whispering that he had come today at the prompting of the Ruach Hakodesh, the Holy Spirit of God. Something significant would happen today.
I watched as old Simeon and the young couple seemed on a collision course. He clearly was seeking them out, in spite of all the crowd of young mothers. He walked directly up to them and spoke.
Taking the child in his arms (over the objections of the mother), he prayed, “Adonai, let me die now in peace, as you have said. I have now seen your salvation with my own eyes; a salvation you have prepared in the sight of all people. It is a light to disclose you to the nations, your shekinah for your people Israel.”
This was no casual prayer in the corner. Simeon never did anything casually. I believe he was speaking to God, but also to the people gathered around. It certainly had an effect on me, then and for all these years since. If he was saying he could die in peace, he believed this child was Messiah. When a Tzaddik like Simeon declares Messiah has come, people listen. Clearly this mother and father were affected.
Then he turned to the child’s mother, whom I later came to know as Miriam. He proclaimed, “Lo, this is appointed to bring many in Israel down and to raise many up. It is a sign that many will try to contradict. Your own soul will be pierced as with a sword in order to reveal the thoughts of many hearts.”
As is true with many such prophecies, nobody understood what Simeon was saying at the time. It has taken me forty years to fully comprehend that Miriam would see her son die so that many could be forgiven of their sins. Many would believe and live, and many would stumble and fall because of Simeon’s declaration that this was Messiah.
That alone would have been enough to catch my attention, but the day was not over. The second event followed on the heels of the first.
Anna had heard the commotion. If Simeon was famous in the Temple, Anna could be said to be part of the Temple. She had lived in the Temple as long as anyone could remember. Well, maybe she had gone elsewhere while Herod was rebuilding it, but some claim he had just built it up around her. Eighty-four years she had been a fixture in the Temple, and she was now approaching her century. As a young woman she had been married for about seven years. After her husband died she devoted herself to prayer and service in the Temple. There was not an hour of the day she could not be found there. So of course she heard what Simeon had prayed. I would say she came running, but at her age few people can run. (Truth be told, I have never met anyone else that was her age.)
Anna bat Phanuel was well known as a prophetess. I guess when you spend that much time in the presence of God you have no choice but to speak his word.
There are many that look for the redemption of Israel. Many of them act in secret, because it is not popular, in front of the Romans, to let what may be considered treasonous thoughts be expressed openly. The Romans were not allowed in the Temple courts. Even if they had been, they probably would not have touched Anna. That would have sparked the riots they wanted to avoid.
She was not a rebel. Her idea of the redemption of Israel seemed to be one of turning the people back to God. She may have spent all her time in the Temple, but she still knew the religious temper of the people. Maybe because she spent so much time among the priests she knew of the need for something or someone to turn Israel back to God. Once she heard what Simeon had said, she wasted no time. She stopped everyone she saw in the courts and told them Messiah was come. Some people ignored her, as they will an old woman. I could see she had caught the same fever I had. She would not live to see what I have since, but she was content with what she had seen.
Miriam and her husband left the Temple after making the appropriate sacrifices. The priests saw only a young mother bringing her son to be circumcised. They had heard all the commotion, but it did not seem to have meant anything to them.
I have spent my life keeping track of the child. When I learned that he came from Galilee, I moved there. When he became an itinerant rabbi, I followed him. It has cost me everything I had, but I don’t regret it. I was there when he healed the lame and blind. I followed him into the wilderness, and was satisfied with a meal that came from a few loaves and fish; I even helped gather the leftovers into baskets. I traveled with him from Galilee to Jerusalem and back again. He raised the dead. I saw it! He even raised the dead! (I know I am repeating myself, but once you see something like that you have to repeat it.)
I was with the Teacher on his last trip to Jerusalem. Oh, that was a good time, and a bad one. There were a large number of us who gave up everything to follow the Teacher and hang on every word. So it was with heavy hearts we saw him convicted, and executed by the Romans. That was the saddest time of my life.
But as life is lived in cycles, that sadness was followed by joy when we saw him after his resurrection. I repeated myself when I spoke of raising the dead; I have to do so again here. He himself arose from the dead! He lived after he died. I was in a crowd of about five hundred people that saw him. It was truly him. I know, because I had spent my life devoted to him. He arose!
Now after all these years I understand what Simeon was saying, and what Anna was so happy about.Maybe because she spent so much time among the priests she knew of the need for something or someone to turn Israel back to God. The Romans are still here. Life in Israel has not changed. But life has changed.
We understand the prophets now. We understand Simeon and Anna now. We have seen the consolation and redemption of Israel. And recently we have even heard that some of the Romans themselves are becoming followers of the Teacher. Simeon said it. “A light to the nations.” Many among the Jewish people are believers. “The Shekinah of your people, Israel.” Just as the glory of God filled the first Temple, so the glory of the Teacher fills the world.
I was young then;. I am old now. Maybe not as old as Anna, but I might make it. Or I might not. The Romans are beginning to hear of The Way, and many of them are afraid. When people in power begin to fear, nothing good can come of it. But what does that matter?.
I was in the Temple courts forty years ago. I heard Simeon. Anna stopped me as I was following a young couple and their baby with my eyes. She told me what he would become. Now I have seen it for myself. Simeon could not stay silent. Anna had to stop everyone and tell them. And so do I.
(Based on Luke 2:21-40)