The Third Woman: Anna's story
My name is Anna. I’ve lived in Jerusalem all my life. The temple – God’s temple – has been the centre of my life for as long as I can remember. Where ever I go the temple is in the corner of my eye, helping to navigate through Jerusalem’s winding streets, reminding me that no matter what happens God, my God, is right there with me.
I was named after my great-aunt, Anna. She was a prophet and after her husband died she lived in the temple day and night, fasting and praying and reading Scripture. She lived in a corner of the court of the women – as close as she was allowed to be to her. She couldn’t go further and even in her old age she harrumphed her indignation at it – at the thought that she, a small bent old woma could in any way weaken her God creator and judge of the whole world, whose steadfast love endures forever but who might flee in fright if a woman got too close.
I used to go and visit her, and she would tell me the old, old stories of our faith. Of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob; of Sarah and Hagar, Rebekah and Rachel; of Moses and Joshua; of Zipporah and Rahab. At the end she would grasp my hands tightly and whisper. It’s your story too – never let them paint
you out. And I would nod, wondering what she meant.
One day, just after I was married, I arrived in temple to visit her as usual. As I entered the court of the women, one of the Levite’s drew me on one side.
‘She’s lost it’, he said, ‘I think it’s time you took her home.’ I looked over to the corner where she studied and prayed and slept, to see her talking animatedly to a crowd of people. I looked at the Levite, questioningly.
‘She thinks she’s met the Messiah, bless her. She talks about him to anyone who’ll listen. And best of all, she says he was a baby.’ He laughed and returned to his post at the gate, shooing away som unsuspecting visiting Gentiles who paused for long enough at the entrance to imply they thought they might come in.
I walked over to my great-aunt, slightly bemused. Last week when I saw her, she had shown no sign of a fading of her spirit that you sometimes see in elders. Quite the opposite she was as sprightly and insightful as ever. She saw me walking toward her and hurried over as quickly as her bent frame would allow – those endless nights sleeping in the temple had done her body no good at all.
‘Little Anna’ – to her I would always be little Anna even though I towered above her now – ‘Little Anna’, she said, ‘I saw him’.
‘Who?’ I asked concerned, remembering the Levite’s words.
‘The savior. I held him in my arms, sang him a lullaby, a love song for my Lord.'
A few days later, she died and now, every time I go to the temple. I look over into her corner and wonder who or what she thought she had seen. They told me later that she died with a smile on her lips whispering the words ‘the steadfast love of the Lord, endures forever’.
Today as I got ready to go the temple, slowly and wearily. I wondered what Anna would say to me now. When she was alive, I faced life with joy and confidence. Thinking that nothing could bring me down. I was wrong. Life itself defeated me. God’s very self brought me to the depths of sheol. I am left with nothing, only the echoes of my cries to a God who never answers.
A few years ago I had everything and now I gather everything I have left in the world to go to the temple to make my gift. I know I don’t have to. I’m only a woman. No one expects me to. No one care especially. No one notices if I do. Until this year, I’d have said God notices: the God who has loved me from the
moment I was woven together in my mother’s womb; the God who sees my sitting down and my rising; the God whom great-aunt Anna loved with every fibre of her being. Until this year I’d have said that that God sees. But last year, almost exactly to the day a mysterious illness crept through the city, taking first my parents, then my sons and last of all my husband.
And now I am alone. Quite alone in the world. I have no money. Well that’s not strictly speaking true - I have two coins. Tiny they are – the size of my thumb nail. One to buy bread for tomorrow. The last one I’ll give in thanks to my God.
The journey to the temple seemed longer than usual. I was jostled at every step; I almost gave up. The joy of the pilgrims seemed to mock my numb misery. At last I stood before the funnels of the treasury. Next to me, there was a man who had come with his whole family. Seven sons, he had. I know that because he announced it so loudly. ‘I’ve come to pay the temple tax for myself and my seven sons’ he proclaimed as he dropped eight, gleaming silver shekels, one by one from a great height into the bronze funnel in front of him. ‘God is good’ he declared in full volume and then under his breath thinking no one could hear him ‘and so am I’. He turned to walk away, barging into me as he did so. When he saw me, he dusted himself down, disgust written all over his face. I wanted to tell him, I wasn’t always like this. I wanted to tell him that I used to come with my husband and sons and pay the temple tax in full just like him. I wanted him to see me, not as I am now but as I used to be. But even as I opened my mouth to speak, I realized that words simply couldn’t say all that needed to be said.
I turned to treasury box. It’s bronze mouth seemingly mocking the smallness and inadequateness of my gift. I stood there for a moment, looking at those two tiny coins. All I had left in the world, held in the palm of my hand. As I stood there, I could have sworn I heard Anna’s voice echoing in my ear ‘his steadfast love endures forever’. Before I knew what I’d done, I dropped both coins into funnel – my love gift for the God who, despite it all, I had to believe saw me and loved me. The sound of their dual clink echoed round the courtyard.
I look instinctively in the direction of Anna’s corner. There was a man standing there, surrounded by a group of people. He looked right at me; right, or so it felt, into my numb grieving heart. He simply nodded at me and turned to say something to those around him. I could see from his eyes that he saw me, saw all of it. He turned back and pointed at me his eyes full of admiration.
When I got home, standing outside of my tiny room was my neighbor of a few days. She was called, Sarah, she said and with her husband Jacob, a priest, was here for the feast. She wondered, she said, if I’d like to eat with them while they were here. They had plenty to share. ‘But why’ I stammered ‘why would you do that for me?’ She smiled at me and said ‘Love God and love your neighbor, that is the whole law’. Someone said that to my husband recently, someone who meant it with the whole of themselves and it makes more sense to me than anything else I’ve ever heard. Suddenly I felt an overwhelming need to lean against the wall for strength, ‘Could it be, could it be that the God who sees had heard my cry after all?