The Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph – 31 December 2023
Lectionary Readings: Gen 15:1-6. 21:1-3; Ps 105:1-9; Heb 11:8.11-12.17-19; Lk 2:22-40
Theme: “There was also a Prophet, Anna”
There are two prophets in this Sunday’s Gospel—Simeon and Anna. She is the only woman Luke calls a prophet, although other women in his gospel, such as Mary and Elizabeth, do speak prophetically. We are told that despite her great age: “She never left the temple but worshipped there with fasting and prayer night and day. At that moment she came and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.” Simeon and Anna are treated differently by both the evangelist and by commentators. The theologian Satoko Yamaguchi writes (p.64): “…the gospel tells us that, while the male prophet Simeon prophesied in front of the baby Jesus and his parents, Anna prophesied in front of the entire congregation. While the figure of Simeon is highlighted and his words quoted, Anna’s prophecy is summarized in a single verse.”
Yamaguchi is a woman. Here is what two male theologians have to say about Anna. They both relegate her to a footnote. Luke Timothy Johnson tells us: “It is Luke’s habit to pair a female character with a male character even when, as in this case, her testimony adds nothing specific to what has already been established.” (p. 56) He seems to treat Simeon and Anna as two theologians who are essentially saying the same thing so who needs both of them? They are not theologians, however, and they are speaking, both in their own age and ours, to different audiences.
In his footnote Brendan Byrne writes: “While the pairing of two characters, male and female, is typical of Luke, feminist critique can take no comfort here from the fact that Anna plays a rather minor role compared to Simeon…..we should also note that while Simeon speaks solely to Mary and Joseph, Anna makes a more public declaration. ” (p.34) In other words, Simeon speaks only to the important people, while Anna brings the good news to all who wish to hear it. It is not clear to me why Anna’s should be considered a minor role (apart, that is, from giving Byrne an opportunity to sneer at ‘feminist critique.”
For Reflection and Discussion: The Presentation has been a popular subject for stained glass windows. This may have been in part because it is naturally suited to a triptych, with Mary and Joseph on the left, at the centre Simeon holding Jesus, and Anna on the right. This link is to such a triptych in St. Michael’s Cathedral in Toronto https://www.jeffangiegoh.com/?p=2872 Notice how Anna, bent with age as she is, and using a cane, leans forward so eagerly towards Jesus. As we age, may we be like her.
Bibliography: Byrne, Brendan, The Hospitality of God: A Reading of Luke’s Gospel (The Liturgical Press: Collegeville MN, 2000); Johnson, Luke Timothy, The Gospel of Luke (The Liturgical Press: Collegeville MN, 1991); Yamaguchi, Satoko, Mary & Martha: Women in the World of Jesus (Orbis Books: Maryknoll NY, 2002)
This week’s Sunday Liturgy Commentary was prepared by Anne Morton, Canada, Bat Kol Alumna 2010