There’s a classic episode of Star Trek, the original series, called “I, Mudd” that’s one of my favorites. Captain Kirk and crew find an asteroid full of androids who detain them: they’re controlled by Harcourt Fenton Mudd, a con man the Enterprise has met before. Mudd gets the Enterprise crew beamed down and replaced by robots, but at the last minute, he discovers he’s got to stay as well, for the androids are taking over the galaxy and keeping the dangerous human race safe from itself and harming creation.
They try to overload the leader of the robots through a series of irrational activities and at the end of the story, Kirk says to the android leader: “Mudd’s a liar, don’t trust anything he says.” Mudd then says: “Listen to me carefully, I am lying.” The Lair’s paradox short circuits everything and the heroes escape, but not Mudd.
When Mary and Joseph brought Jesus to the Temple in obedience to the Law, it was a very special time for Mary: childlessness was seen as a curse, and a first born son a special blessing to his mother and his whole family, a clear sign of God’s favor. I don’t know how many families made this trip; there were probably families from Galilee that weren’t able to come to Jerusalem ever, but this journey would have been the trip of a lifetime. They didn’t have to work hard to make this extra special.
When Simeon and Anna come forward, things change. They have been waiting their entire lives for a sign of God’s favor: the coming of the Messiah. The numbers around Anna reinforce this: 7 is the sacred number of completion, so she lived with her husband a perfect amount of time, and 84 is 7 x 12; twelve is a sacred number as well, so we know it’s an unusually strong sign of God’s presence. But to say the child is a sign of contradiction, to tell a hopeful young mother a sword will pierce her heart, isn’t quite the kind of good news people generally hear. After all, you’d think the Messiah would bring everyone together without question, and everything would be perfect after he was revealed.
Jesus, the sign of contradiction. How do we process that?
One way I thought of is this: in order to find ourselves, we must lose ourselves in Christ. That seems to go against common sense, and against a lot of literature out there today to become a better person. But the journey of life as I’ve known it is represented here. When I go deeper into Christ, when I seek to learn all I can about Christ, ponder the meaning of his life, teaching, death and resurrection, the more I understand about myself and what I’m supposed to be, what I’m best at. I’m not the only one by a long shot. Pope Francis himself in the Joy of the Gospel offers a rather simple basic remedy for the ills of society and our own deeper issues: deeper encounter with Christ, which heals us and makes us whole, and help us find a way to cope with everything life has to throw at us.
Jesus comes to us today, a sign of contradiction. He empties himself so we may be full, and our call is to do likewise, empty ourselves so he can fill us. Jesus comes to us today in his body and blood, becomes part of us, to transform us into his image. It may sound like a contradiction, but in becoming the person we’re meant to be, being ourselves in the best way possible, we need to be more like Christ.