Getting to Know Simeon

Happy feast of the Presentation of the Lord! St. Thomas once said that the whole of theology is contained in the psalms and when I look at the presentation narrative in Luke, I want to say the same of it. It’s that rich. But I’ll focus on one character that we meet: Simeon.

I want to focus on Simeon because he is a particularly pertinent model for Christians today. Now, I’ll admit that focusing on Simeon and, further, trying to paint a picture of his character is a somewhat dangerous thing to do, given that all we really know about him comes from a few lines in Luke’s gospel. Still, St. Luke gives us enough for at least a sketch.

The first question to ask is, how did Simeon recognize the Christ? I mean, taking your 40-day-old baby boy to the temple was kind of the thing to do back then (See Ex. 13:2 and Lev. 12:1-8). In other words, there was nothing on the outside, nothing available to our human way of knowing, that would have shown Simeon that Jesus was the Christ. Simeon was able to recognize Christ because he saw and experienced the world from the inside. Simeon was already participating in Christ’s life, the life of the Trinity through faith, hope, and love. Only Christ can recognize Christ.

So how did Simeon get there? Well, it’s pretty simple. We hear in Lk 2:25: that he was righteous, that he walked according to God’s commands, that he was devout. Simeon saw who God is and who he was and so saw that God was worthy of all his love. We hear also that he looked for the consolation of Israel, that is, he tirelessly looked for Christ.

So far, Simeon sounds like every other holy person. Why is his example so pertinent for us? Well, Judea under Herod the Tetrarch was not the best of places. Taxes were high and executions were common. There were the very rich and the very poor. And no doubt the moral climate in Judea also suffered during Herod’s tyrannical rule. Safe to say, things were not going well for Israel. The promises of redemption and the Messiah must’ve seemed to be either pipe-dreams or eons away. Yet Simeon kept looking, kept believing.

When we see the deep wounds in our society and in our Church, we can begin to question where God is in all this. And we are tempted to lose hope when we only look at things from the outside. It is in these moments that we can remember Simeon and pray to see things from the inside, from God’s perspective. Through all the carnage he recognized Christ at work, and so saw Christ Himself. May we imitate Simeon in these difficult times. May we see with Christ’s eyes, see Christ himself, who is at work in our lives and in the world, no matter how bad they might look…from the outside.

Br. Michael Thomas Cain, O.P. | Meet the Brothers in Formation HERE