Having reached the eve of Holy Week, my thoughts return to an earlier episode in the life of our Lord. When Mary and Joseph presented the child Jesus in the Temple, the Gospel of St. Luke records that Simeon said in prophecy to Mary: “Behold, this child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted (and you yourself a sword will pierce) so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed” (Luke 2:34-35). What is this sign of contradiction?
The Gospels are filled with them. Our Lord works miracles for which the beneficiaries are grateful, but some in the crowd, like the Pharisees, are resentful because these miracles occur on the sabbath (e.g. John 9:13-17). At other times, our Lord instructs about truths that make even some of His disciples abandon Him (e.g. John 6:66). Even something as remarkable as the raising of Lazarus from the dead divides the Jews between believers and betrayers (John 11:46-47). The pace of these contradictions seems only to hasten as our Lord nears His Passion and Death. What He says and what He does seems to create a crucible that separates the faithful from non-believers, followers from adversaries, friends from enemies. Indeed, our Lord is in and of Himself “a sign that will be contradicted.” He remains so today.
This “sign of contradiction” is manifest on the cross. The cross, the means of ignominious death, is for the believer a sign of victory and redemption. As St. Paul will teach us, “The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (I Corinthians 1:18).