When a Sword Pierces Your Soul

Simeon had a painful message for Mary. But she discovered that for those who trust God, he uses soul-piercing events to unleash more grace, salvation, and joy into the world than we could have ever imagined.

It was mid-morning when Joseph and Mary and their infant son entered Jerusalem’s Fountain Gate at the city’s southern tip. They passed the pool of Siloam where the disabled and diseased hoped for a healing stir of the water. They walked northwest up the street that led to the Temple Mount. It bustled with the rattle and hum of morning chores and commerce.

It had been forty days since Mary had birthed her boy. Under the Jewish law, this had made her unclean and required a purification sacrifice on the fortieth day. She and Joseph had made the nearly ten-mile trek from Bethlehem the previous day, camping with a few others a half-mile or so outside the holy city.

Outside the temple complex Joseph bartered with merchants for two turtledoves. The inflated prices angered him. Profiting from purification! He also felt shame that he couldn’t afford a lamb. Doves were a poor man’s sacrifice. He was barely eking out a living in Bethlehem, taking whatever odd job he could find.

Mary watched Joseph return with the cloth bag, its erratic movements divulging an inner turmoil. Sorrow flashed through her. She always recoiled at the sacrifices: the struggle, the fear, the violence, the blood — innocent life killed because of another’s guilt. These two frightened creatures would soon die to make her clean. She held Jesus tighter.

They entered the complex and made their way across the noisy Court of the Gentiles toward the Eastern Gate of the inner wall. Hundreds were praying, men with covered and women with uncovered heads.

Suddenly, in front of them, an old man appeared. “Let me see the child!” He sounded almost distressed. Joseph stepped up and shielded his wife. The man looked up at Joseph first confused and then smiled. Taking Joseph’s prohibiting hand in both of his, he patted it and said, “I’m sorry, my son. You must forgive old Simeon. Please don’t be afraid. Your child is in no danger from me. I’ve just been waiting for him so long.”

Mary knew immediately that he knew. The old man looked to her and gently asked, “May I see your son?” Mary smiled and nodded. Joseph stepped back. The man moved near and looked in awe at the child. Barely audible he muttered, “The salvation of Israel. The glory of Israel.”

Without taking his eyes off Jesus, he asked, “May I hold him?” Mary felt no fear as she placed Jesus into Simeon’s arms. He gently rocked him and mouthed silent praise with tears streaming. Mary glanced at Joseph who was wordless too.

Then the old man broke into a half sobbing prayer, “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel (Luke 2:29–32).

Mary again felt the shivering wonder that her baby, this one she nursed and changed and bathed and cradled, was “Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11).

Simeon, still gazing adoringly at the child, said, “Years ago the Lord promised me that death would not come until I had seen his Christ. Today, I opened my eyes while praying and there you were — an infant! I had never thought you would be an infant!” Looking to Joseph with laughing eyes, he said, “One never thinks of the Christ as an infant!”

With a kiss of blessing Simeon softly placed Jesus back in his mother’s arms. He dried his eyes with a sleeve and turned to Joseph, laying a hand on his shoulder, and said, “Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed, so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed” (Luke 2:34–35).

Then turning back to Mary, he gently cupped her head with his hands and said tearfully, “And a sword will pierce through your own soul also” (Luke 2:35). He kissed her forehead and with one last look at the child, he moved away slowly through the crowd.

“A sword will pierce through your own soul.” The most wonderful, gracious event in human history was God sending his Son into the world — to the cross — to “save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21), and this gracious event caused indescribable grief for Mary. This is important to note.

As God works out his salvation of sinners, he leads us along unexpected paths that result in unexpected and sometimes agonizing pain. When it does, we can remember Mary. The darkest moment of her life, the sword that stabbed deepest into her soul, was the moment that God used most to bring salvation and joy to the world — and to her!

That’s how he works with us too. When the sword pierces, all it feels like is terrible pain. But later we discover that our deepest wounding often becomes the channel through which the most profound grace flows.