Good morning all, and welcome to the Temple. You look like rich travellers with those…er, interesting erm, clothes…and those, what do you call them—iPads?
Forgive me for being rude. My name is Phinehas, and I’ll be your guide today. I’m a Sadducee here in the Temple of Jerusalem. You’ve heard of us Sadducees? Oh…you haven’t? I’m amazed! Your minister can’t have been doing a very good job then, that’s all I can say. You can tell him I said that!
Well, I have a lot of important jobs here at the Temple, I won’t bore you with what they are, but I always have time for rich travellers. The Temple’s coffers are very low in these unfortunate days, so low we’re thinking of introducing a seven shekel copayment for people who need prayer. So if you wanted to give a copayment, or even a large donation, I’d make sure it went to a good home…
No, you don’t like that idea? Ok…so what can I show you? The Temple is such a grand place, it covers over fourteen hectares! You can’t see it all in one day, you’d need a whole week to do it justice.
Now, if you’ll just follow me… Sorry, what’s that? You want to know who those scruffy two old people over by the gate are? What a strange question. But it’s interesting you should ask…
You know, I’ve been here for many years, going to and fro, in and out, hither and yon, making myself, erm, useful…in various ways. But do you know, I’d never noticed those two before last Thursday. Isn’t it amazing? Well, it’s not amazing really, I mean, they’re so…old, and ragged…and everything. Why would I want look at them?
The woman, she’s called Joanna or Hannah or Anna or something. She’s been a widow practically her whole life, just begging from people in the Temple! I mean, she must’ve been young once, she could have done something useful with herself!
Now that old man, he’s called Simeon. I know that for a fact because a friend of mine, more an acquaintance really, told me a very interesting story just the other day. My friend’s name is Zechariah, you may have heard of him? They say that he was struck dumb when an angel told him he would become a father. His boy is called John; what a funny name!
Anyway, Zechariah was near where we are now when a young couple came in with a baby boy. He recognised them—his wife Elizabeth is the woman’s cousin. They must be from a pretty poverty-stricken branch of the family, that’s all I’ll say. I mean, they live in Nazareth—and you know what they say, nothing good comes from Nazareth! Most people can afford to bring a lamb and a dove for the purification offering. That’s the right thing to do. But they could only afford two stringy little doves. I really think people like that should manage their finances better…
Anyway, Zechariah is soft-hearted, and he has a soft spot for Simeon and old what’s-her-name, Anna. He says they’re prophets. Anyway, he says that when Simeon saw the poor relations Simeon said,
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.
It seems he was talking about their baby. Simeon and Anna are convinced that this baby is God’s promised Messiah. It seems God promised Simeon that he would not die before he saw the Messiah.
Well, Simeon’s still alive!—but they do say he only has a few days to live.
I’m really quite happy about all this Messiah talk. I mean, when he comes he’s bound to give someone like me a really important job to do.
But I’m not really sure about a Messiah from Nazareth. And I really don’t like all this talk about ‘a revelation to the Gentiles’. What’s it got to do with them anyway?
Now, to business. What can I show you first in the Temple? What? Sorry? You’d rather talk to Simeon and Anna than to me?
Well, if that’s your attitude…!
Poor old Phinehas. He just didn’t get it, did he? This baby is for everyone—
a light for revelation to the Gentiles
and glory to God’s people Israel.
When this baby grew up he said that ‘the first’—people like Phinehas—would be ‘the last’. And there are plenty of people like Phinehas around today.
And he said ‘the last’, people like Simeon and Anna and the Gentiles who’d been excluded, would be first.
This baby grew up to distil the various laws and the dos and don’ts into two short statements (Mark 12.28–31). The first is:
Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.
And the second:
You shall love your neighbour as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these.
Phinehas didn’t get it. Let us strive to get it as the old year ends and the new begins.