All Day (Saturday)
Meditations for Lent By: Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet Courtesy of Sophia Institute Press Week 5: Saturday A Sign of Contradiction The holy prophet Simeon spoke truly when he told the Blessed Virgin, “This child is set for
Meditations for Lent
By: Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet
Courtesy of Sophia Institute Press
Week 5: Saturday
A Sign of Contradiction
The holy prophet Simeon spoke truly when he told the Blessed Virgin, “This child is set for the fall and for the resurrection of many in Israel, and for a sign which shall be contradicted . . . that, out of many hearts, thoughts may be revealed” (Luke 2:34-35, Douay-Rheims). At that moment, the profound malice of the human heart had not yet been seen, nor the extent to which it is capable of resisting God.
It should not astonish us that many believed in Jesus after the raising of Lazarus. The miracle had taken place in full view, at the very door of Jerusalem, with the crowd that the mourning of a family of good standing normally attracts. “Many of the Jews therefore . . . believed in him” (John 11:45). It was the foreseeable effect of so great a miracle.
But others, knowing that the chief priests and the Pharisees hated Jesus, went to tell them what they had seen. Upon hearing the news, a council was assembled and came to a strange determination.
“This man performs many signs.” They did not deny the fact, for it was too well attested. “What are we to do?” (John 11:47). The response would seem plain: to believe in him. But their avarice, false zeal, hypocrisy, ambition, and tyranny over consciences — faults which Jesus revealed, even though they were hidden under the mask of piety — these faults blinded them. In this condition, “they could not believe” (John 12:39). They would rather resist God than renounce their power.
Later they would say of the disciples: “What shall we do with these men? For that a notable sign has been performed through them is manifest to all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and we cannot deny it” (Acts 4:16). The natural response would have been: we must believe in it. But if we believe in it, we will lose our standing. This they could not resolve to do.
The incredulous among us ask how was it that the whole world did not believe in him if he worked so many great miracles? They do not understand the profound attachment of the human heart to its senses, which brings a prodigious indifference to salvation. These attachments cause us to be complacent, to ignore things that pertain to our salvation, and to deafen ourselves to the claims of those that we do see, for fear of the consequences of belief. We fear having to renounce all that we love and embrace a life that seems so unbearable and sad.
In order to change the evil dispositions of our hearts, there must be internal miracles in addition to external ones. This is what grace achieves. There ought to be nothing easier than to discover the truth. But only a relatively small number of men desired the truth and their salvation enough to inquire into the things happening in Judea and to reflect upon them freely, that is, without attachment to their senses.
What is the more astonishing is that these men who did not see the will of God in the miracles that had so evidently declared it were held to be wise: the chief priests, the scribes, and the Pharisees. Yet they were hypocrites, who employed the name of God to mislead the world. They were proud, grasping men who made religion serve their interests. They were, therefore, opposed to the truth and incapable of accepting it. This is why Simeon said that by Christ the “thoughts out of many hearts [would] be revealed” (Luke 2:35); many would choose to follow those who appeared to be wise and who enjoyed high standing rather than to follow God and the truth.
Far from profiting from the miracle of the resurrection of Lazarus, they resolved to kill not only Jesus, but Lazarus as well (John 11:53 and 12:10). Too many people were going to see him; his witness against them was too strong. They thought they would be able to hide the miracle of his being raised by showing that the Savior had not been able to keep him alive for long. They planned to kill him, as if they could thereby tie God’s hands.
The blindness of the Jews is not so different from that of unbelievers today. The effort of self-mastery that must be made in order to give ourselves fully to the truth and to God is so great that many prefer to stifle the grace and inspiration that would lead them to make it. Many, that is, prefer blindness to sight. We are also among those to whom Jesus Christ is a sign of contradiction. One of the revelations of Christ’s coming is the tremendous insensibility of those raised in the faith and surrounded by its light who nevertheless prefer their senses and the enchantment of pleasure to the truth that shines in their heart.