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Watch 2022-2023 online sermons » Robert Barron » Robert Barron - Does It Matter What You Believe?

Robert Barron - Does It Matter What You Believe?

Robert Barron - Does It Matter What You Believe?

Peace be with you. Friends, our first reading for this weekend is taken from that wonderful middle section of the prophet Isaiah. I think I told you before, Isaiah is divided by the  scholars into three sections: 1 through 39, they call it Proto or First Isaiah; and then 40 through 55, this middle section, sometimes called Deutero or Second Isaiah; then some even say from 55 to 66, Trito or Third Isaiah. I'll leave that to the Bible scholars. But the point is that central section is full of some of the richest theology in the whole Old Testament. And the passage for today that the Church gives us conveys an extremely important spiritual point, and one that I think we rarely aver to. But I think it's, especially today I'm going to suggest, of tremendous importance.

So everyone knows that in the Bible, Israel is the specially chosen people of God. Of all the nations of the world, God chose Israel to be his special priestly and prophetic people. Right. But do we attend sufficiently to the fact that biblical revelation does not begin with the formation of the people Israel? You could say that begins in Genesis chapter 12 with the call of Abram, right? The call of Abraham. And from the family of Abraham comes eventually the people Israel. Now, to be sure, most of the Old Testament is then focused upon the formation of and adventures of this people Israel. However, the Bible does not begin with Genesis 12. Go back now to Genesis 1. What do you find but God's creation of the whole universe? Salvation has to do not just with Israel, not just with humanity; it has to do with the whole of creation. That's part of God's salvific plan.

Now, keep pressing it. We don't get to Israel till Genesis 12, when we're talking about Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, the Tower of Babel, Noah and his family, all that period, we're not talking about Israel yet, are we? We're talking about humanity. So Adam is the father of the whole human race, and then after the flood, Noah is a kind of new Adam, a new father of the entire human race. Not Israel specifically, but all of humanity is God's focus, God's interest. And I love this. Some people suggest a covenant with Adam. There was a kind of covenant. But I think the first really explicit covenant is the one with Noah. So before any covenant with Israel, there's a covenant with all of humanity. Listen, this is from the Book of Genesis. "Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him, 'As for me, I am establishing my covenant with you and your descendants after you, and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the domestic animals... as many as came out of the ark.'"

Again, notice please: the covenant with all of humanity and indeed with all of creation. That's the great setting for God's salvific work. Now, he does indeed choose the people Israel, beginning with Abraham. How come? So that they might be set apart from everybody else as God's unique focus of attention, so that they might be singled out of everyone to be saved? Well, no. No, no. As I explained a couple of weeks ago: he chooses Israel indeed, he singles them out indeed, not for themselves but for everybody else. He chooses Israel for the rest of humanity. And may I press it? He chooses Israel for the whole world. On the great temple in Jerusalem, both outside and inside, were decorations that evoked the planets and the stars and the animals and the plants and all of creation, because somehow, in the praise of Israel, all of creation was giving right praise to God.

In other words, everybody, there's always a universal background to everything that God does with and for his people Israel. The Creator of the universe loves and cherishes all people and all things. Therefore, you do not have in the Bible the fussy religious provincialism that you often find in other religions of the ancient world. What I mean here is: "Well, yeah, we have our God or gods, the gods of our country. And I know you've got your gods over there to take care of you". Read "The Iliad" and "The Odyssey" if you want to see this on display in the ancient world: the gods of various peoples and nations battling each other. You see overtones of that sometimes as background in the Bible. But what's interesting is, the God who reveals himself is not a God uniquely of this place or this time or this people, but rather the Creator God of the whole universe.

Israel's chosen, yes, but not in a fussy, provincial way. The God of Israel is the God of all people and of all things. That relationship, that dynamic, it's most important not to forget as we move through the Bible. Now, why am I talking about this principle? Well, because of this extraordinary passage we have today. It's from chapter 45 of the prophet Isaiah. Get your Bibles at some point today and look up Isaiah chapter 45, and you'll find this passage dealing with a man named Cyrus. Now, who was Cyrus? Cyrus was the King of Persia. Now, let me just give you a little background. We all know that in the year 587 BC, the great Babylonian exile commences. So the Babylonians came, they conquered Judea. That's the country around Jerusalem. They lay siege to the capital of Jerusalem. Eventually they destroy the city. They burn down the temple. They take the best and brightest of Judea, and they carry them off now into exile. It was probably the most traumatic event in the history of Israel.

Then, some decades later, the Babylonian Empire weakens, and Cyrus, the king of Persia, conquers Babylon and becomes, in fact, one of the greatest imperial figures in the ancient world, commanding a huge territory. But then Cyrus of Persia does something fascinating. He notices the Jews, the Israelites who have been carried away into exile. And instead of further exploiting them, he decides that he will liberate them. He will allow them to return to their home country. In fact, he will provide funds for the rebuilding of their temple. This foreign potentate, this king who knows not the God of Israel, and yet he proves to be one of the greatest benefactors in the history of Israel. It's unique in the Bible. This foreigner, this non-Israelite is called by Isaiah, "messiah". Extraordinary, isn't it? "Mashiach," the anointed one. That's a title given to David, the greatest king of Israel.

The Mashiach, the new David, is the one that Israel is hoping for, who would definitively restore their glory, who'd be the bearer of God's presence to them. The title, yes, eventually given to Jesus himself. "Yeshua Mashiach," Paul calls him. Well, Mashiach, Messiah, is now being used of Cyrus of Persia? Yes, indeed. Listen, in our passage for today: God says to Cyrus, "For the sake of Jacob, my servant, of Israel, my chosen one, I have called you by your name, giving you a title", boy, I'll tell you, not just a title; like, the title, "though you knew me not". One of the greatest benefactors of Israel is not an Israelite. One of the greatest benefactors of the nation is not someone who knows the God of Israel, but listen, someone whom the God of Israel, who always has a universal purpose in mind, uses for his own purposes.

Now, that's the story. From it I derive this principle. There is a happy medium the Bible wants us to find between what I would call a bland religious relativism and a dangerous religious tribalism. Let me say that again. There's a middle ground, the Bible wants us to find it, I think, between a bland religious relativism and a dangerous religious tribalism. What do I mean? Well, go back to the years I was coming of age in the Church, let's say the 1970s, 1980s. There was, I would say, on vivid display a bland religious relativism. There was a tendency to say, "Well, you know, all religions, they're basically the same". "We're all climbing the one holy mountain by different paths". "You got your religion, I got my religion". "Who am I to be imposing my views on you". Tolerance and open-mindedness, that was all the rage when I was coming of age. Well, it should be clear, I hope, that the Bible has no truck with this kind of bland indifferentism or relativism.

No, no, no. The true God is being described in the Bible. Israel in fact is chosen, and the New Israel, the Church, is in fact chosen as God's privileged vehicle for the communication of the fullness of his truth to the world. The Bible wouldn't hold by any means that all religions are the same, or it doesn't matter what you believe. No, no. From the beginning, Christians have been a creedal religion. We clearly articulate our beliefs. We don't have truck with a bland relativism. On the other hand, there's a danger of falling into what I've called a religious tribalism that is so insisted upon what's unique and distinctive and my own in religion that I become antipathetic toward anyone outside that religious circle. "No, we're right. You're wrong. No, no. God's revealed it to me. God loves me, not you".

No, no, no. The Bible has no truck with that. Why? Because prior to the covenant with Israel, we have the covenant with all of humanity, indeed with all of creation. Whatever purpose the uniqueness of Israel serves is for the good of the whole. Whenever you're defining yourself in this closed way over and against everybody else, whenever that gives rise to violent attitudes or actions, you've moved outside the biblical space. And see, go back to this passage in Isaiah 45. Who gets the title Mashiach? Well, David does, yeah, and  eventually Jesus gets it. But also Cyrus of Persia got the title Mashiach, was recognized as a great benefactor of Israel. God chooses this nation, yes. Reveals his distinctive truth, yes, indeed. But for the sake of everybody else, for the sake of all the world. See, that's the subtle middle ground that the Bible is trying to draw us into. And God bless you.
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