Standing at the center of the events surrounding the circumcision and naming of Jesus is an elderly woman. (See Luke 2:36-38 for the story.) What’s perhaps overlooked about the narrative: She’s identified as “the prophet Anna.” At 84 years of age, this devout woman entered the ritual scene that had just featured a song by the “good man” Simeon. Her reaction to Jesus’ presence befitted her designation as prophet: She praised God and then spoke about Jesus to “everyone who hoped for Jerusalem to be set free.” (Luke 2:38 CEV) Anna’ prophetic role seems to have had a political cast.
Simeon didn’t have an honorific attached to his name. Anna did, and that’s significant. “Prophet,” the title assigned to her, was not easily earned. By that word, the Gospel writer honors this woman beyond her age, lineage or marital status.
In a recent Bible class, we were thinking together about titles-of-honor at church. In mainline Christianity, pastor, deacon, minister, elder or bishop indicate the respect conferred on this role or office. But prophet rarely gets attached to the person and work of seemingly ordinary individuals who possess prophetic gifts. That’s also true about women.
Which brings me to this realization: Women like Anna are part of most congregations. Whether or not they are elderly, they are always highly respected. Their role extends deeper: They show their devotion to God by speaking the truth and praising God in ways that benefit the rest of us.
I see many Annas in our church. Their wisdom is charismatic—people are drawn to them. When they speak, we listen. Although they may be known by their given names, we can also think of them as prophets.
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