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Watch 2022-2023 online sermons » Robert Barron » Bishop Barron - Mighty Ones, Look Upon Your Works and Despair

Bishop Barron - Mighty Ones, Look Upon Your Works and Despair

Bishop Barron - Mighty Ones, Look Upon Your Works and Despair

Peace be with you. Friends, in the twenty-second chapter of the book of the prophet Isaiah, we find the prophet's only criticism of an individual. Isaiah often criticizes nations and peoples and indeed his own people, but the only time he singles out an individual for criticism is in chapter 22. And the person in the prophet's crosshairs is a certain Shebna. Shebna. He's described as master of the palace. Now, it probably meant something like prime minister. So, the palace in question is the king's palace, and Shebna is a very high official, let's say, in the government. So, what is it that rouses the ire of the prophet Isaiah against Shebna? So he says, listen to this, "I will thrust you from your office and pull you down from your station".

Wow. What did this guy do wrong? Well, we have to look a little bit earlier in the book of the prophet Isaiah. And we find this: "Thus says the Lord God of hosts: Come, go to this steward, to [this] Shebna, who is master of the household, and say to him: What right do you have here? Who are your relatives here, that you have cut out a tomb here for yourself, cutting a tomb on the height, and carving a habitation for yourself in the rock"? So, what is Isaiah complaining about? The fact that Shebna has evidently contrived to build an elaborate tomb for himself on the height. Now, he's probably talking about the Mount of Olives. So, he's in Jerusalem, in David's City. If you've been there you know that to the east is the Mount of Olives, figures prominently throughout the Bible. Those would be the heights on which he was building this tomb, clearly, not just a resting place for his body, but a kind of monument to himself. And on the heights, so that everybody will see it. He's evidently gone to enormous trouble, enormous expense, to build this extraordinary monument.

Think how he must have reveled in this when he was alive. Shebna must have thought, "I'm a big and important person now, but forever people will remember my name. They'll see my monument". You know what comes to mind here for me is Pope Julius II. I don't want to totally badmouth him; he was a great figure in some ways. Without Julius II we wouldn't have the Sistine Chapel ceiling, and we wouldn't have some of the sculptures that Michelangelo did for this elaborate tomb that Pope Julius had designed for himself, or had contrived for himself. And he wanted to place it inside of the new Saint Peters. He's also responsible for that, by the way. He tore down the old Saint Peters to build the one that we know. But in the very heart of it, he wanted to place this monumental tomb filled with Michelangelo's sculptures as a permanent monument to himself.

Here's the question, everybody: How are we using the power and authority that we have? Shebna has used enormous reserves of money, energy, time, personnel, in a project meant almost exclusively to aggrandize his ego. Now, one of the supreme ironies, I love this in this story, is Shebna wanted to be remembered forever, right? Hence he wanted to build this tomb, which is long gone. If he is remembered, not that he's a household name, but if he is remembered by anybody, he's remembered because of this criticism in the book of the prophet Isaiah. Talk about a project backfiring. And I couldn't also help but think, most of you maybe remember this from high school English class, we all read that wonderful little poem "Ozymandias" by Shelley. Remember, I'll read a little bit of it to you. "I met a traveller from an antique land, who said 'Two vast and trunkless legs of stone stand in the desert.... Near them, on the sand, half sunk a shattered visage lies.'"

So here are the crumbling remains of this great monument. And then he goes on: "On the pedestal, these words appear: My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings; Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair! Nothing beside remains. Round the decay of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare the lone and level sands stretch far away". Look at me, Ozymandias, King of Kings. Here's a monument that'll last forever! It's just a wreck in the sand. If anyone remembers the name, it's because of this poem that mocks him. That's very much Shebna. It's Isaiah's version of "Ozymandias". So, because of his great flaws, the Lord removes Shebna from his position and puts in his place Hilkiah. And it says beautifully, he sets him like "a peg in a firm place".

And then puts on his shoulder, we hear, "the key of the House of David". And they think this literally was this big device they used to open a door in the palace. So, it was something you didn't carry in a pocket; you carried it really on your shoulder. Shebna's out. Why? Because he spent his time and money and energy and brought personnel to build a monument to himself! Here's the question: How do you use the power and authority that you have? Now, there are people explicitly in positions of official power. But everybody has got some kind of power. You have power in your own family. You've got power in your community. You've got power in your place of work. Maybe you do have some kind of very high office. The great spiritual question is: What do you do with it? It is permanently a temptation to use that power to build monuments to ourselves, and to involve lots of people in that project.

The point is, to use our power precisely for the benefit of those whom we serve. I know that can sound a bit like a Boy Scout, but that's the whole point of having power. That's why God gave you the power you have if you have it. It's for the sake of those that you have authority over. So, ask yourself that question everybody. Are you operating like Shebna? Are you operating like Ozymandias? Are you spending a lot of your time and energy building a monument to yourself? Or breathing life into others? It's a bit of a cliché now, but you have two types of people: some that breathe life into a room, others that suck the air out of a room. You know what I mean. As if you're drawing everything into the sort of black hole of your own ego. You take life out of people. But the best people, and those in authority, the best of those in authority, breathe life into people. That's our great question.

Well, I think it's wonderful that the Church couples the story of Shebna with this marvelous and familiar story from the sixteenth chapter of Matthew. Jesus, giving the keys of the kingdom to Simon Peter. Now, I've preached on it many times before, there are so many themes we could draw out from this. But what I love is this: just as God gives the key of David to Hilkiah, having set him in a firm place like a peg, now Jesus says to Simon, "You are now 'Rocky.'" "Petros" in the Greek, "Peter" in English. "You're Rock. I'm setting you in a firm place. And I'm giving you my own version of the keys of the House of David. I'm giving you the keys to the kingdom of heaven".

There's the authority given by Christ to his Church. You know, it's wonderful, and of course I can't help but think this as a bishop of the Church: any authority I have as a bishop is derived from the successor of Peter. It's Francis, the successor of Peter, who appointed me a bishop. Any authority a priest or deacon has comes from a bishop, who ordained him. The point is, all of these positions of authority, from the pope, through bishops, priests, deacons, come finally from this moment, when Jesus said to Peter, "I'm going to set you like a peg in a firm place. I'm going to make you a rock, and I'm going to give you the keys".

Has this power been abused? Yeah, sadly. Look up and down Church history. Have even popes, bishops, priests, etcetera, yeah, sometimes abused it. Acting more like Shebna than like Hilkiah. Building monuments to ourselves, rather than breathing life into our people. So, spend some time this week, everybody. Think about the kind of power you have. And first acknowledge that whatever legitimate power you have, from your family to the highest office, comes ultimately from the permission of God. It's God who has given it to you; God's allowed you to have it. But now, how do you cooperate with that grace? Be honest now, and it's a point of spiritual meditation for myself as well.

How am I using the power I have? Building a tomb for myself up on the heights? What that will result in, trust me when I tell you this, is the mockery of Isaiah. That will result in mockery. That will result in Ozymandias. Don't waste your own precious spiritual energy, and don't waste the spiritual energies of those around you, building those monuments. Rather, whatever power you have, whatever keys you've been given, use them everybody to unlock the doors that will lead to deeper life. Use that power not to draw air out of the room but to breathe life into it. Spend a little bit of time this week thinking about Shebna, how he's remembered. And then think about how you're using the power that God has given you. And God bless you.
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