One of the more commonly observed statistics about American church attendance is that church is more for women than men. That is, more women attend than do men. Some draw the conclusion that the church is too oriented toward women, though I find this an odd argument. Others draw the conclusion that women are more religious than men, which strikes me as sexism. Still, comparisons will be made between men and women when it comes to religion.
We find it already in the Gospel of Luke, and Michael Chung has an exceptionally-clear sketch of how Luke compares Zechariah and Simeon to Mary and Anna. The piece is in Priscilla Papers (27/3, summer 2013, pp. 24-27). [At least one in Michael’s family wears appropriate gear.]
Luke opens his Gospel (remember, big “G” means a book and little “g” means the message) by sketching the piety of Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth (Luke 1:5-25), proud parents of John Baptist. What comes off though is a story of Zechariah’s splendid status as priest and wonderful opportunity to serve in the temple all messed up by his lack of faith when the angel declares the plan of God. Then we get Mary, whose status is low (young, woman, non-priestly) who responds with amazing and glorious faith to the angel’s words about God’s plans. Zechariah and Elizabeth, as Chung observes, are like Abraham and Sarah — Abraham acts in faith, Sarah laughs. Zechariah should have been “favored” but it was Mary who was favored (Luke 1:26-38).
Yes, perhaps Chung is seeing too much. But once we factor in all the passages in Luke that highlight the faith and piety of women we are led to conclude what he does with confidence: Luke wants to dramatize the faith of Mary over against the lack of faith of Zechariah. Cf. Luke 2:21-40; 7:11-17; 7:36-50; 8:1-3; 10:38-42; 13:10-17; 18:1-10; 23:50–24:53.
Then comes Simeon and Anna in Luke 2:22-40, a narrative rich in beauty and evocative of character. Anna reminds of Hannah and evokes the marginalized who has faith. The stories of Simeon and Anna are told together as were the stories of Zechariah and Mary … they are meant to be read as comparisons.
Anna is a prophet (I don’t like added “ess” since it will work against the powerful claim of being endowed with words from God) but Simeon is not called that, though he is described in similar terms to a prophet. Here we have a woman in the temple doing the work of God.