There is something comforting about the many characters in the Christian story of which we know very little. There was more to the story of the woman who knew that if she could just touch the fringe of Jesus’s robe she would be well. There was more to tell about the woman who anointed Jesus with a jar of perfume, or the thief who hung beside Jesus on the cross. Yet, we are told only that they will be remembered. And they are. However “insignificant” their lives were to society, they have been captured in the pages of history as people worth remembering, people who had a role in the story of the God man on earth, people remembered by God when multitudes actually wished them forgotten. It is to me a kind reminder that our own fleeting lives are remembered by God long before others notice and long after they have stopped noticing.
We know very little about the man named Simeon, but we know he was in the temple when he realized that God had remembered him. Reaching for the baby in the arms of a young girl, Simeon was moved to praise. As his wrinkled hands cradled the infant, Simeon sang to God: “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation.”(1)
Simeon actually uses the language of a slave who has been freed. There is a sense of immediacy and relief, as if a great iron door has been unlocked and he is now free to go through it. God had remembered his promise even as God remembered the aging Simeon. The Lord had promised Simeon that he would not die before he saw the Lord’s salvation. Now seeing and holding the child named Jesus, Simeon somehow knew that he was dismissed to death in peace.
Marveling at this bold reaction of a stranger, Mary and Joseph stood in awe—and possibly horror. Upon laying eyes on their baby, a man entirely unknown to them pronounced he could now die in peace. They were well aware of God’s hand upon Jesus; yet here they seemed to discover that the arm of God, which is not too short to save, extended far beyond anything they imagined.
Simeon’s subsequent blessing and words to the young mother only furthered this certainty: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”(2) To these words as well, Mary and Joseph stood in awe and possibly horror.
In this Lenten season, followers of Jesus recall the horrific events of the cross, the sword that pierced this mother’s heart, and the passion of the one who continues to be spoken against. An old man in the temple hundreds of years ago, through a fraction of a scene in his life, reminds us still today that to look at Jesus is to see the suffering of the world and the salvation of God. As Father Farrar Capon notes, “[God] will not take our cluttered life, as we hold it, into eternity. He will take only the clean emptiness of our death in the power of Jesus’ resurrection.” Whether peering at the child in the manger or the man on the cross, the human heart is still revealed in its response to him. This is, in fact, our own most memorable feature.
Perhaps the small excerpts of the many fleeting lives we find throughout the Christian story were meant to capture this very sentiment. As the thief peered into the bruised eyes of Jesus on the cross beside him, like Simeon, he saw the salvation of God. “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom,” he asked. And it was so.
Jill Carattini is managing editor of A Slice of Infinity at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Atlanta, Georgia.
(1) Luke 2:29-30.
(2) Luke 2:34-35.