Reading the Fine Print

We celebrate the Presentation of Jesus in the temple today as recorded in Luke 2:22-39. The “righteous and devout” Simeon plays a major role and his prayer (“The Song of Simeon”) enriches our prayers at the end of the day. Less used are his following words to Jesus’ mother: “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed– and a sword will pierce your own soul too.” The Song serves to end one story (Simeon’s, each of our days), the words to introduce another. Or, we might say, the words serve as the fine print or warning label for the Song.

The Song sounds straightforward; the words warn that it’s anything but. In the Daily Office readings this comes through most clearly in Jesus’ words, “you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free,” a truth that—as the argument immediately following shows—destabilizes his followers’ assumptions and identities.

“A sword will pierce your own soul too.” Simeon gets it right, as does Annie Dillard: “It is madness to wear ladies’ straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews. For the sleeping god may wake someday and take offense, or the waking god may draw us out to where we can never return” (Teaching a stone to talk).

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