Note: This is part of an ongoing series of posts about women in scripture.
About forty days after the birth of Christ, Mary and Joseph went to the temple, six miles away from Bethlehem. Mary was about 15 years old and came from a very small village of approximately 500 people. What did she feel as she ascended the steps to the temple in the bustling city of Jerusalem with a population numbering in the tens of thousands, or even more? We know that adult men who traveled with Jesus felt amazement as they saw the large buildings in the city (see Mark 13:1) – did Mary feel overwhelmed? Had she been to Jerusalem before? Recently, our twelve-year-old went to the temple for the first time and the simple logistics of getting baptismal clothes, etc. were a lot to take in. Did Mary experience something similar?
As Mary and Joseph came into the temple, the met Simeon, an elderly gentleman who had been brought by the Spirit to the temple so that he could see the Savior. Simeon took Jesus in his arms and offered a prayer of thanksgiving for the privilege of seeing the son of God. Mary was amazed at Simeon’s words, and then Simeon turned and spoke directly to Mary saying:
“This child is set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel; and for a sign which shall be spoken against; (Yea, a sword shall pierce through thy own soul also,) that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed” (Luke 2:34-35).
This phrase became more poignant for me when I visited the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem – the site venerated by most Christians as the place where Christ was crucified. In that location, there is a statue of Mary with a sword piercing her heart:
While scholars have debated the meaning of this passage, the Joseph Smith Translation provides an interesting insight into verse. The JST changes Simeon’s words as follows: “Yea, a spear shall pierce through him to the wounding of thine own soul also…”
Simeon thus prophesies to Mary about the spear that would be thrust into the Savior’s side (see John 19:34) and how this would wound Mary’s soul. I write more about what Mary might have felt at the crucifixion in Part 4 , but for now, what did Mary feel as a fifteen-year-old when she was told that a sword would pierce through her son? How much did she understand of the Savior’s mission? How did this change the way Mary raised her son? Truly Mary had great reason to keep “all these things, and ponder them in her heart” (Luke 2:19).