Friends, in today’s Gospel, the Lord tells his opponents, who asked for a sign, that no sign will be given except the sign of Jonah—that is, the Resurrection. According to the early Church Fathers, Christ’s coming precipitated a warfare with the powers that hold the world in their sway.
In bringing God’s ordo to the world, Jesus had to move into the arena of disorder, but this invasion was not met with passivity or acquiescence. Rather, the principalities of the world—Herod, Pilate, the scribes and Pharisees, the demons—waged a ferocious struggle against him, and it was only through the drama of the cross and Resurrection that Jesus managed to defeat them.
He took all of their violence and, through courageous forgiveness, robbed it of its authority, for violence feeds on itself, surviving only through reproduction. When it is met with compassion and forgiveness, it dissipates, its power source gone. In the language of the Fathers, Jesus thereby tied up the devil, frustrating him into submission, leading our captivity to hatred captive. So, as the hymn text has it, “The strife is o’er, the battle done . . .”