Easter Without Hindsight: Jesus through the Eyes of his Religious Contemporaries
Last week we saw how many of the ordinary Hebrew people, under Roman military occupation, were desperate to see another messiah who, like the Maccabees a century earlier, would successfully drive the Romans from the Holy Land. The ancient kingdom of Israel would be restored to the land the Hebrews believed God had given them. There is good reason why that sounds like the story of the Middle East today. The conflict his also about who owns the land between the Mediterranean and the River Jordan?
There was however, another strand of thought about messiah that picks up the spiritual side of restoration. Back in the ancient scriptures there is prophecy about God, the creator of the universe, giving his creatures the freedom to go their own way. Love, someone said, is like a butterfly. If you grip it, it dies. Unless it is free to leave it cannot live. So how does God restore the relationship with God’s own creatures without coercion?
Jeshua’s parents were Jewish and, like good practising Jews, followed the observances in Temple in Jerusalem as the rules said they should. On duty that day (Luke 2:25-40) was an elderly priest called Simeon. In those days many of the working priests in the Temple normally lived and worked throughout the countryside and came to work in Jerusalem on a rota.
Simeon had probably thought deeply about the broken nature of the world he saw around him: the ugliness, the evil, the pain, the injustice, and the sorrow. If a good God made a beautiful world, surely that God would do something to fix it now its broken. Near Simeon, as Mary and Joseph brought Jeshua to the old priest, was a prophet called Anna. A widow, she had spent her widowhood in the Temple in prayer and fasting. Was she also struggling with the same conundrum that Simeon had identified?
Luke says Simeon felt an assurance from God that he would live to see God’s answer to what CS Lewis once called: ‘The Problem of Pain’. As he takes the baby in his arms something tells him this child will be the answer:
“Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word, for my eyes have seen your salvation which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples: a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel” (as translated in New Revised Standard Version)
Anna joins him and starts speaking about this child to many who were waiting for the restoration of Israel.
Here we see that from the start of his life there were those around Jeshua who grasped there was more to God’s restoration than resolving the ownership of a small patch of land. God’s agenda, Simon and Anna believed, was about restoring the creation to the good order God had made it in the first place. However this child would achieve God’s purpose, both probably knew they wouldn’t see much more of the process. Luke says Anna was already 84. They had both probably worked out that God seemed to be playing a long game.