Now let your servant go in peace (Luke 2,29)

Taken from Intercom February 2021 Lectio Divina page by John Cullen

Lectio: What the Word says in itself…

This scripture verse is from St Luke’s gospel, chapter two. It is part of the canticle for night prayer in the Divine Office that is known as the Nunc Dimittis. It is Simeon’s prayer to God. We have the privilege of borrowing Simeon’s prayer to make it our own to God. It is a prayer that goes back to Isaiah’s prophecies. Simeon is described in the gospel as ‘an upright and devout man. He looked forward to Israel’s consolation and the Holy Spirit rested on him.’ We are not told how old he was, though Anna, the prophetess, her age is disclosed! She is described as one who ‘spoke of the child to all who looked forward to the deliverance of Jerusalem’. Simeon and Anna are forward looking people.

Meditatio: What the Word says to me/us

Simeon and Anna are people of waiting. They are models of patience. As we go through the Covid crisis we have had to learn to be patient. See how the crisis has affected the world of business, economics and finance. We saw how wealth that can be accumulated overnight could also be lost overnight! Real wealth comes from making things that people value, and building communities in which these values can be lived and shared. Such wealth cannot be built overnight as it takes time. Simeon and Anna’s faithfulness is a lesson for us in prayerful waiting.

Oratio: what the Word leads me/us to say…

In different versions of this gospel the word consolation and comforting is used. One of the most beautiful pieces of music is part of the Messiah that Handel set to music in 1741 and was first performed in Dublin: ‘Comfort ye, Comfort ye my people, saith your God. Speak comfortably to Jerusalem’ (Is 40:1-2). Simeon is praying for the same comforting. He echoes the 500 year old prayer of the prophet Isaiah. 500 years is a long time to wait, but God’s timescale is not like ours: ‘One day is as a thousand years and a thousand years as one day’ (2 Peter 3:8). St Paul uses the phrase ‘When the fullness of time had come’ (Gal 4:4). Simeon recognises in the Child Jesus the fullness of time. In our age of instant satisfaction it is difficult for us to wait. If we were God our slogan and game plan would have been, ‘I want to save the world and I want to save it now!’ Zap! But it is not God’s way. Simeon and Anna’s patience is but a small fraction of the patience of God. In a way the bible is a story of God asking people to be patient. See how the patience of Job was tried and tested.

Contemplatio: Being transformed by the Word…

Simeon says this to Mary: ‘You see this child: he is destined for the falling and rising of many in Israel, destined to be a sign that will be rejected – and a sword shall piece your own soul too so that the secret thoughts of many may be laid bare’ (Luke 2:34). This is not about instant salvation here. Not even after the fullness of time had come, it was a process involving more patient waiting and many ups and downs. The early Christians became a waiting church – ‘waiting for the master to return’ (Luke 12:36). This is our calling too.

Actio: Putting the Word into practice…

Mary and Joseph return to the mundane world of Nazareth, where ‘the child grew to maturity and was filled with wisdom and God’s favour was with him’ (Luke 2:40). Mundane, but God’s purpose and plan was unfolding patiently. The bible shows us that the signs of God are counter-intuitive. The ‘light to enlighten’ becomes a sword that pieces Mary’s heart and a Centurion’s spear that signals the death of Jesus and leads the same Centurion to profess faith in Christ on Calvary. God’s ways are baffling. Let us pray that the Spirit that was with Simeon will also guide us to live as a Church in waiting, living patiently and pondering God’s Word with a hope for the signs that this Word is living and active in our lives and bearing witness in our gospel service to one another.

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