As I was reading through Luke, my attention was caught by the account of two seemingly minor characters in the passages Luke 2:25-38. At first glance, Simeon and Anna could be easily overlooked within the narrative. At the time of Jesus being dedicated to the Lord at the Temple and Mary and Joseph offering their sacrifice for purification, both Simeon and Anna recognized the infant Jesus as the Messiah and sang his praises to all around them.
It struck me as strange that these two transient characters would receive a more detailed account, when much of Jesus’ own ministry was summed up in general terms at times throughout the book of Luke. Then I stopped to consider that perhaps they were following a literary tradition in which certain characters foreshadow the destiny of a great figure. After some research, I discovered that such an incident was known as oracular literature, which is defined as “foretelling events as if by supernatural intervention.” This is very fitting for Simeon, because the book of Luke tells us that the Holy Spirit “had revealed to him that he would not die until he has seen him–God’s annointed King.” By having this message from the Holy Spirit, recognizing Jesus in the Temple, and praising God for the occurrence, he fulfills this oracular convention in heralding the destiny of Jesus.
Anna does not have the same message from the Holy Spirit, but she is devout and never leaves the Temple, devoting night and day to worshiping God and praying. Upon Simeon’s recognition of Jesus, she also recognizes it as a divine sign and begins to tell people in Jerusalem that the prophesied Messiah and Savior has finally arrived. In this way, she also acts as a herald of sorts, spreading word of the truth of Jesus’ heritage and his destiny as the Messiah.
This concept of oracular figures is common throughout not only literature but history as well, such as with the oracles found in Greek mythology in places such as Delphi. These oracles also delivered messages to the populace that were believed to be granted through divine or supernatural intervention.
So while Simeon and Anna might seem insignificant at first glance, some research proved that they can actually be viewed as fulfilling that tradition of oracular literature.
As I was reading through Mark, I stumbled across a verse that caught my attention because of its apparent aberrancy. The verse in question was Mark 9:29, which states: “He told them, ‘This kind can come out only by prayer and fasting.'” This verse follows an account in which Jesus purged a demon from a boy after the disciples were unsuccessful in doing so. When Jesus was asked why their attempts had failed, he replied as such, stating the need for prayer and fasting in such a case.
This verse was of particular interest to me, because it seemed somewhat at odds with what I had read throughout the rest of Mark. In numerous accounts when addressing his disciples or crowds of people, Jesus proclaimed that they could achieve anything through faith, including the passage Mark 11:22-23: “Jesus told his disciples, ‘Have faith in God! I tell all of you with certainty, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Be lifted up and thrown into the sea,’ if he doesn’t doubt in his heart but believes that what he says will happen, it will be done for him.'” This also comes after he had granted the disciples the ability to heal people and spread the word of his message.
So we are given multiple instances of possibility through faith being stressed, yet this passage seems to uncut that. Though it does stem from a question of faith, it seems to be adding more qualifiers than were stressed earlier throughout the book. It seems to be an additional test of faith that they must undergo fasting and prayer in order to possess the ability to drive out certain demons. Fasting was an important religious discipline of the time. As stated here, fasting is considered to be “the most powerful spiritual discipline of all the Christian disciplines.” It was a process through which it was believed the participant could grow closer to God and gain a greater spiritual understanding and rapport.
Faith seems to be the basis for the message being conveyed about driving out demons. However, I followed this line of thinking because I found it interesting that this particular verse seemed to demand more strenuous qualifiers than the passages that dealt with the same issue earlier in Mark. Such a test of fasting and prayer occurred only with certain demons, which leads me to believe that these would have been portrayed as demons of greater power, which would require a more intensive immersion into the message that had been relayed to the disciples.
I found it interesting because this requirement of fasting and prayer was reminiscent of a test that so many other literary figures have to endure. Many literary figures, particularly fairly virtuous ones such as the disciples, must undertake such tests of faith or determination in order to better understand what is required of them and gain not only more awareness, but a greater degree of capability. So while it does harken back to the idea of deepening faith once you follow that line of thinking through to conclusion, I found it interesting that that particular verse followed a slightly aberrant literary path in showing greater depth in the process than the earlier passages.
Matthew 3:12 states: “Whose fan is in his hand, and he will thoroughly purge his floor, and gather his wheat into the barn; but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”
In my assigned reading, it was this particular verse which captured my interest. It was a verse with which I was somewhat familiar, but this time, I stopped to truly wonder about the metaphor that was being put into use. Although a semblance of understanding could be gained with minimal knowledge, I sought to fully understand the significance of the metaphor which was employed in this particular parable. Jesus related this story when the Pharisees and Sadduccees came to be baptized by him, so it becomes evident that there is a deeper meaning beneath the surface of his words.
Understanding the usage of “wheat” within the verse was the easier part. Agriculture was an important staple of life in that time, so using the idea of wheat to convey a message to the people would make it more relatable. As stated by this source, “Agriculture became the basis of the Mosaic commonwealth.” Wheat was a staple of this agriculture, and it was “sometimes produced hundredfold.” This made it a very important part of agriculture in that period of time; people understood the importance and value of wheat, so it was an easily accessible point of comparison for the people.
Chaff was where my understanding faltered with this verse. Some searching uncovered chaff to be “the seed coverings and other debris separated from the seed in threshing grain.” Therefore, chaff is worthless in relation to wheat; it is something which much be disposed of in order to gain the valuable portion of the grain. The definition even elaborates that it can be “something comparatively worthless.” Chaff had no value or worth in agriculture, so it was something to be disposed of, hence the “unquenchable fire” mentioned in the verse. The people, being intimately familiar with farming, would understand the necessity of disposing off the chaff.
This research allowed me to gain a greater understanding of the literary significance behind this metaphor employed by Jesus. The wheat is symbolic of a person who is plentiful and prosperous, at least in so far as Jesus’ teachings demonstrated. With a newly gained understanding of what chaff was, it allowed me to understand that within the context of the story, those who are considered chaff are those who are corrupt and unfruitful in their labors. It says that the chaff will be burned with an “unquenchable fire.” This shows literary significance, because it enforces the idea that something unfruitful or unproductive according to those standards is undesirable and therefore should be disposed of. It conveys a lesson through crafting this metaphor that would have been familiar to the people of the time, much like other parables and literary devices which employ the same method.