Sunday, December 28, 2008

A sign of contradiction

Sunday, December 28, 2008

The Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph

Jesus is presented at the temple (Luke 2:22-40)

Mary and Joseph went to the temple to fulfill a Jewish ritual. Jesus, being
a firstborn male, must be consecrated to God. Here Mary and Joseph encounter
the two prophets Simeon and Anna. Simeon prophecies that Jesus will
stand as a sign of contradiction.

The Gospel accounts of Jesus' preaching indeed presents an emphasis on struggle, conflict and final reversal of status, contradictions that were often unsettling to its hearers, then and now. They appear in stories and parables depicting the first shall be last; those who exalts themselves will be humbled; those who humble themselves will be exalted; the hungry will be filled; the rich will go away empty... This theme of reversal may have had its most dramatic expression in the Beatitudes. Christ is God's light that enlightens people, but it also blinds, confuses and leads to opposition. It moves people to look at the world and their values in a new way.

But there was also a joyful element in what He proclaimed. During his ministry, Jesus calls those who suffer in his name to leap for joy (Lk 6:23). The 70 disciples whom Jesus sent out, returns with joy. Jesus rejoices in the Holy Spirit at what they had done. Heaven rejoices when one sinner repents. Zacchaeus welcomes Jesus with joy and repents. At Jesus triumphant entry to Jerusalem, the whole multitude of disciples praise God with joy. Following his ascension, the disciples return to Jerusalem with great joy. It is not suprising then, that Paul calls joy the second fruit of the Spirit and places it between love and peace (Gal 5:22). Joy is difficult to describe. While it can be manifested as an outward sign of happiness, it is more often interior - a deep sense of well-being. All of us can probably name a person who, while struggling with suffering, adversity and pain, has also experienced profound inner joy and peace. If God's kingdom had a future dimension, his parables also proclaim that God's reign is already active in this world, here and now.

Thus, in today's Gospel, the prophet Simeon declares:

"See him; he will be for the rise or fall of the multitudes in Israel.
He shall stand as a sign of contradiction,
while a sword will pierce your own soul.
Then the secret thoughts of many may be brought to light".

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