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(h)anna the faithful prophetess – sarah harris


Lately I’ve been considering the story of (H)Anna (Luke 2:36-38). Hannah is one of the first eschatological prophetesses of which Joel prophesied and who prefigures the disciples who will witness to Jesus after the resurrection. She is an intriguing woman; lived seven years as a married woman (literally, after her virginity) and a staggering eighty-four years as a widow. (If you’re not sure she actually lived to one hundred and five, check out the subject of the sentence! – her widowhood!)

Hannah’s story is a mere three verses; hardly worth preaching some might say – a mere ripple in the biblical narrative after the more lengthy story of Simeon – but the text is rich with information and potentiality and should not be skipped over.

But do we skip over the smaller “buffer” stories?

Do we give voice to the minor characters?

Do they really matter?

 I would like to suggest that they do matter and these smaller units are sometimes the tiny mustard seed which produces a great harvest. If we examine the story carefully we find Hannah’s age is one hundred and five; the age of Judith the fasting, praying widow from Bethulia (ancient Shechem) – the capital city of the northern kingdom: Hannah’s region. As women who are focused on prayer and fasting, they are ideally placed to be model characters who have much to teach us about faith, perseverance and devotion. The most surprising feature of Hannah may be that she spends her days speaking (preaching really) publically to the people in the temple; the use of the imperfect tense tells us this is her habitual practice and her voice is a constant presence in the Jerusalem temple where the people clearly look to her as a prophet. The verb laleō (2:38) is used 18 times in Acts in the context of preaching… Hannah was a highly experienced first century preacher.

I wonder what she said?

I wonder if she prophesied against the stones from Herod’s temple rebuild?

I wonder who was uncomfortable with her female voice?

God wasn’t.

Do you wonder about the life of this woman?

I find the longer I journey as a Christian, the more I am willing to stop and observe the minor characters; I wonder if they are sometimes as important as the more prominent characters; maybe in the economy of God, of even greater worth. Maybe – just maybe.


What smaller units have inspired you in your study or preaching?



    Thanks, Sarah, for reminding us of the beauty of ‘minor’ characters in the gospels. Anna the prophetess in Luke — Luke, who often couples men and women in his narratives, and Hannah the woman at the temple in Isaiah 1, fervently praying and asking for a blessing… these are two of my favourites. Who else thinks some of us as listeners, and not only the priest Eli, misunderstand Hannah and her request?

    Releasing these seemingly minor characters from inattentive exegesis frees us to hear God better. That’s significant.


      1 Samuel 1-2 of course

      1. Sarah Harris says:

        Hi Nancy,
        Yes that is a great story! And Eli’s exasperation and lack of understanding at Hannah’s persistent prayers in 1 Samuel may well be reflected in us at times too. Thanks for reminding me of that. Challenging!

  2. howard Carter says:

    I’ve never considered (h)anna a minor character in Luke’s nativity narrative. She stands with equal value as Simeon. Luke presents the good news as equally proclaimed to/ celebrated by and acknowledged by both men and women. Gabriel visits Zechariah and the Mary. Both Elizabeth and the baby John the Baptist recognise Jesus, Mary rejoices and prophecies with the magnificent and then we have Zechariah also celebrating and prophesying. Simeon and (H)Anna stand as embodiment of faithful Israel (men and women) that has longed to see the coming of the messiah. In fact the gospel of Luke has the feel of the Green party policy on Leadership. Through the gospel Luke tries to maintain a balance between Jesus encounters and ministry to women and to men and they are often found in pairs. So while your insights on (h)anna are good and you are right she is often seen as a minor character… we need to acknowledge that in Luke’s narrative either men nor women are minor characters they are of equal worth and together are able to tell forth the amazing good news of Jesus Christ. A point that needs to be remembered and articulated in the church and world today.

    1. Sarah Harris says:

      Hi Howard, I am delighted you don’t see (H)Anna as a minor character and hope there are many more preachers out there like you! I’ve actually only once heard a full sermon on her, and it was brilliant, but more often than not she seems to come as an “add-on” or tail piece to Simeon’s longer narrative. In some ways you need to let imagination (or “faithful imagining” as I call it) take hold when you tell her story and you need to have a developed sense of how the two stories interrelate. It takes more time and effort for the preacher – but it is so worth doing, I think.
      Sometimes Lydia and/or Tabitha also get a quick mention while preachers rush to tell the story of the conversion of the Philippian jailer. I try and slow that story down too!
      Yes, it could be argued that Luke reads like schema for Green party policy – as it relates to gender anyway. Your comment made me smile!
      Thanks for commenting, Sarah

  3. Helen Brereton says:

    Thanks Sarah, the minor character that currently intrigues me is Hur (Exodus 17:10-12 & 24:14 and mentioned in genealogy of Caleb & Bezalel). An intriguing leader, and mentioned alongside Aaron in both 17 & 24 but not in the golden calf episode. Time for some faithful imagining I think – Helen

    1. Sarah Harris says:

      How exciting Helen. A character I hadn’t considered. Have you done any academic work Hur or preached these passages?

      1. Helen Brereton says:

        Not yet Sarah, just personal study so far. But he is someone on my list of ‘explores’ now the BAppTheol has been put to bed. I would welcome any leads from the readers 😉

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