Mary’s Sword of Sorrow

“Then Simeon blessed them and said  to Mary his mother . . . a sword will pierce your own soul too” (Luke 2 :35).

These words cloud the Christmas story. A sword is a symbol of pain, suffering and violence. These prophetic words were spoken in the temple by Simeon at the dedication of the baby Jesus. I wonder if these words hung over Mary as her son was growing to manhood. Doubtless she later heard his repeated predictions of the death he would die.

Maybe this was one of the things she pondered in her heart (Luke 2:19, 51). I think it was a detail she shared with Luke the historian if he interviewed her about the life of Jesus for the writing of his gospel (Luke 1:1-4).

Joseph and Mary brought the infant boy to the temple to be consecrated. This was in accordance with the law of Moses: “You are to give over to the Lord the first offspring of every womb” (Exodus 13:12). Joseph and Mary brought a sacrifice of two doves for the occasion (Luke 2:24, Leviticus 12:8). Simeon and the aged Anna were two eyewitnesses to the naming of the child.

When Simeon recognized who the child was, he uttered his cryptic and disturbing prophecy. “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that  will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your heart also” (Luke 2:34-35).

Simeon’s mysterious words refer to the way Jesus would raise those who believe in him. He will also be the final judge against those who reject his offer of salvation. In the final judgment there will be no place to hide. Everything will be revealed.

We cannot know the effect of these words on Mary. Luke says she and Joseph “marveled” at what was said. We can only imagine the sense of foreboding in her heart as she pondered the prophecy. The reference to a sword meant that Mary was destined to experience deep anguish of soul because of the world’s response to her son.

Simeon’s words about the sword came true at Calvary, where Mary watched her son die. She stood at the foot of the cross. She saw the crown of thorns, the scourge, the nails, the piercing of his side with a spear. She witnessed the cruelty of the soldiers. She heard the mocking insults of the religious leaders. She heard his dying words of loving concern for her as he entrusted her to the care of John the beloved disciple (John 19:26-27).

We honor Mary’s grace, dignity, courage, and obedience. She was found among Jesus’ most faithful disciples. After his resurrection she was associated with them in the prayer gatherings at the beginning of the Christian movement (Acts 1:14). God had used her to be the earthly mother of his son. Then he used her to strengthen the worship and testimony of the early church.

All that Mary witnessed, the ministry, the suffering, the death, and the resurrection of Jesus, was in keeping with God’s sovereign plan. Simeon’s words to Mary at the beginning prove it. Mary’s life magnified Jesus. She knew he was the son of God. She believed in him. Her example teaches us to do the same.

Pastor Randy Faulkner