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Watch 2022-2023 online sermons » Robert Barron » Robert Barron - Greater than the Greatest of All Time

Robert Barron - Greater than the Greatest of All Time

Robert Barron - Greater than the Greatest of All Time
TOPICS: Moses, Jesus

Peace be with you. Friends, our first reading is from the book of Deuteronomy, the last book of Pentateuch, the last book of the Torah, Deuteronomy from "deuteros nomos," meaning "second law". Deuteronomy really is just a series of talks that Moses gives as the Israelites are about to enter the Promised Land. So in a way it's like Moses' last will and testament, second law because he's summing up the law that was given on Sinai and the law that was articulated in the book of Leviticus, etc. It's his last great word to Israel. Well, in the midst of one of these speeches, recorded here in the eighteenth chapter, we have a passage that's extremely interesting and a little bit strange.

In fact, Pope Benedict made it central to his own interpretation of Jesus. If you look at his three-volume study of the Lord, this passage from Deuteronomy 18 is central to his interpretation. Well, how come? Well, let me read it to you, the key passage: "A prophet like me," says Moses now, "a prophet like me will the LORD, your God, raise up for you from among your own kin; to him you shall listen". Now, why do I say that's a peculiar passage? Well, the speaker here is Moses: Moses, the greatest figure in the Old Testament; Moses, to whom God spoke from the burning bush; Moses, who was given the command to liberate the people of Israel; Moses, who led the nation across the desert to Mount Sinai; Moses, who received from God himself the Ten Commandments; Moses, who is given access to God in a way that was unprecedented in the biblical tradition, seeing God face to face, talking to him as to a friend; Moses, who is the greatest authority within Israel.

If God gives the Torah to Moses, then Moses is the one from whom authority is derived. So you're now a scribe, you're a teacher, you're a rabbi within the Israelite tradition; you are appealing finally to the great authority of Moses. Sometimes you hear the phrase in the Bible, God and Moses. Well, that's how they saw it. God is God, but then the supreme unsurpassable authority within Israel is Moses. You know, what a rabbi would say is, "Well, I received it from my teacher, Rabbi so-and-so, who got it from his teacher, Rabbi so-and-so", back, back, back until "we finally got it from the Torah, which was given to Moses by God". Okay. So it's Moses, that one, who says, "A prophet like me" God will raise up, and "to him you shall listen". You see how strange that is? Why wouldn't Moses have simply said, "Look, listen to me, up and down the ages, and you'll be fine. God gave me the law, I'm giving it to you, so listen to me, I'm the supreme authority, and you'll be fine". Well, here, he says, "There's someone greater than I coming". Because Moses himself says, "Listen to him".

See, what this did, everybody, is it introduced something, I'll put it first negatively, kind of destabilizing within Israel, because they realized, "Well, I guess there is someone greater coming. Even as we give full reverence to Moses, there seems to be somebody else, someone more coming". Every time one of the prophets arose, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Zechariah, Hosea, people must've thought, "Oh, maybe he's it. Maybe he's the one that Moses talked about". But mind you, the book of Deuteronomy is written somewhere around the year, maybe 500 BC it was finally compiled. All those figures had come and gone. And yet, still we find here this prediction: someone greater than I is coming to whom you should listen. Okay. Reason the Church gives us this reading from Deuteronomy is it's only against that background that we can really understand what's going on in the famous Gospel from the Gospel of Mark.

So we see Jesus now, in the synagogue. And he's doing what people, what rabbis would have done in a synagogue. He's commenting upon the Scriptures. And again, the style would have been, "Well, I'm a rabbi, I'm a teacher, and I learned from my teacher and from his teacher and his teacher", back, back, back all the way to Moses. And so appealing to Moses would have been the style. But Jesus is preaching obviously in a different way, because listen to what we hear: "The people were astonished at his teaching". We say, "Why, because he was teaching something so new"? Not really. It's not so much the content of his teaching. Listen: "For he taught them as one having authority and not as the scribes".

The scribes, again, taught in this way: appealing back, back, back, back finally to Moses, the supreme authority. They're noticing something different about Jesus. He's not preaching in that way; rather, he is claiming his own authority. The word in Greek is interesting here for authority. It's "exousia". "Ousia" means something like substance; "ex," out of. Jesus is preaching out of his own substance. Okay, okay. Who could possibly preach with that kind of authority if not the one who is greater than Moses? And who is greater than Moses, this human being who saw God face to face, talked to him as a friend? Who could be greater than Moses except the one who spoke originally to Moses? You know, when I was going through school, it was commonplace to say, "Oh, the Gospel of Mark and the other synoptics so-called, Matthew and Luke, they have more of a low Christology, meaning they emphasize the humanity of Jesus. And it's only the Gospel of John that emphasizes his divinity".

That's nonsense. In this claim here, you have just as high a Christology as you find in John. They were astonished at his teaching because he was teaching as though he were God, with God's own "exousia". Okay. As if that weren't enough, listen to what happens next. There emerges in the synagogue, it says, "a man with an unclean spirit". Just a side note here, this will be a sermon for another time, but the first demon that Jesus comes across in the first Gospel comes up in church. Things haven't changed that much, everybody. "Oh, this must be some great enemy of the Church outside". No, no; it's from within the Church that this dark and negative and divisive spirit arises. Sound familiar?

Again, sermon for another day. But the man emerges, this unclean spirit. "What [do you want of] us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us"? I love that, of course, because it's a single person, but speaking in the plural. That's the diabolic. "Diabalein" means to scatter, divide. He's divided on the inside. You know that feeling when your mind goes this way, but your will goes that way; one feeling goes this way, the other goes that way; your public life goes here, your private life goes there? That's the riven, divided self; that's the diabolic self. And the diabolic self gives rise to divisions all around it. "What do you want of us, Jesus of Nazareth"? Can you see this man now, this single person in the synagogue, as evocative of all of the dysfunction of sin, all the divisions and hatred and violence that has broken and compromised God's creation? What does Jesus say? "Quiet! Come out of him"! And with that, he left him.

Now, notice something, please, everyone. He's not appealing to Moses. He's not saying, "Oh God, help me get rid of this demon". With his own voice, he commands him and the demon leaves. Now, now, listen to what the people said. They didn't miss a trick here. "All were amazed", the word before was "astonished" at his teaching, "All were amazed and asked one another, 'What is this? A new teaching with authority. He commands even the unclean spirits and they obey him.'" See, everybody, that's the point. St. John will say, "The Word became flesh and dwelt among us"; "I and the Father are one"; "he who has seen me has seen the Father", all of these very clear affirmations of Jesus' divinity. But it's just as clear here if we understand the Jewish background.

This one who speaks, not appealing to Moses, but with his own "exousia," out of his own substance, speaking now in the person of the one who addressed Moses, and who acts with the full "exousia" of God himself, this is God himself healing his divided creation. Extraordinary. See, I think we're going to miss this because we're all post-Kantians. What I mean here is, we tend to follow the German philosopher Immanuel Kant, who said religion is finally about ethics. So we say, "Oh, Jesus, sure. I love Jesus. He's a great ethical teacher. I look at the Sermon on the Mount, I look at his great ethical teachings, and I can distill principles to live by".

Read Thomas Jefferson's Bible, which has removed all the supernatural references, and it just retains Jesus as a moral teacher. Yeah, we're very much at home with that. And you can indeed distill moral teaching from Jesus. Of course you can. He was a moral teacher. But that's not what the biblical authors are primarily interested in. They're interested in telling you who he is, this strange figure greater than Moses himself. They're interested in communicating to us that this Jesus is God. See, and that compels a choice. Because if Jesus is just an ethical teacher, I can say, "Yeah, that's interesting. But so are Sufi mystics, and so are Buddhist sages. And I get a lot of insight from secular figures". And Jesus becomes one teacher among many. But if he's the one, listen now, who Moses predicted, the prophet even greater than Moses, then indeed, as Moses said, we must listen to him. It's the divinity of Jesus, revealed in the "exousia," the authority by which he speaks and acts, that we are meant to see. Because embracing this Jesus, the prophet greater than Moses himself, is what Christianity is finally all about. And God bless you.
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