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Watch 2022-2023 online sermons » Robert Barron » Robert Barron - Give Away the Grace You've Been Given

Robert Barron - Give Away the Grace You've Been Given

Robert Barron - Give Away the Grace You've Been Given

Peace be with you. Friends, for this weekend, the Church has brought together a first reading and gospel in a really interesting way, because they tell the stories of two prophetic careers, if you want. The beginnings of two prophetic vocations. First that of Jeremiah, and secondly that of Jesus. And they're linked, as I say, in a really fascinating way. Look now the first one from the book of the prophet Jeremiah. If you've been to ordination liturgies, I've been to 1000 of them. But if you've been to one of those, you almost always hear this reading about the call of Jeremiah. Listen now. "The word of the Lord came to me saying before I formed you in the womb, I knew you. Before you were born, I dedicated you. A prophet to the nations, I appointed you". Every line of that is of extraordinary importance. "Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you".

We put a great stress on the ego and our prerogatives and finding our voices, and "I'm going to find my way, and don't tell me what to do," and the Bible couldn't be more bored with all that. The Bible could care less about what you've decided to do or what your ego wants to attain. No, no. "Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you," says the Lord. Before you were born. So, before you were even here before you were able to make any choices, "I dedicated you. A prophet to the nations, I appointed you". How important that we talk about vocation, call. It's not my little voice, my little programs and plans. It's my attunement to the mission vocation and identity that God has given to me.

I've always loved this theory you find in some psychologists, the acorn theory, that says somehow buried within all of us is a seed. Think of an acorn giving rise to a tree. A seed of the person we are meant to be. And it's not so much, "I'm choosing my path". It's, at times the acorn gets stirred in us, and we realize through some experience or through a conversation or whatever, we realize, "Oh yeah, that's the person I'm meant to be. I discover what God has already placed in me". And now we're talking about vocation. Now we're talking about being appointed by the Lord. That's what the Bible is interested in. And now look, "A prophet to the nations, I appointed you". Very important. As I said to you 1000 times, Israel exists not for Israel. It exists for the nations, for the world. Israel has a distinctive identity. Yes, indeed.

Remember I talked about the walls last week. But it's not meant to bask in its own glory. It's meant now to be a vehicle of God's love and light to the whole world. Same with the Church. Lumen gentium, it's meant to bring the light of Christ to the nations. The Church doesn't rest in itself. "A prophet to the nations, I appointed you". God says to Jeremiah and Christ says to his Church, even today. It seems wonderful, in both these ways, Jeremiah is being moved off of himself. It's not my career and vocation. It's that God has planted this thing in me. And moreover, he's appointed me, not for my own good or even the good of my nation, he's appointed me for the good of the whole world. Listen to me, fellow believers. I mean, once we allow those truths to get deep down in us, our lives change.

As long as I'm thinking, "Look, my life is all about attaining the goals I've set for myself, and making my life as successful and comfortable as possible," which is the default position of 95% of people in our society, but that's completely repugnant to the Bible. That's repugnant to what God wants. No, no. "I've planted a purpose and a vocation in you, and it's not for you. It's for the nations". Okay. That's a little Jeremiah overture that's meant to prepare us for the extraordinary gospel, which is taken of course from the Gospel of Luke. Jesus, fresh from baptism and his struggle with the devil, returns to his hometown and takes up the scripture to read at the synagogue. This was the prerogative of any adult male at his time. And there was no assigned reading. Rather, the reader could choose the passage he wanted and then comment upon it.

So Jesus chooses the familiar passage from the book of the prophet Isaiah, talking about the messianic time, when the Messiah comes and the blind shall see and the lame shall walk and the deaf shall hear. This time of glory and fulfill and healing. But what's extraordinary is he doesn't comment upon it as though it's a prophecy of something yet to come. Rather he says, listen. "Today, this scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing". They knew exactly what he meant. This ancient prophecy. "Someday, one day the Messiah will come and all will be well". Jesus does not say now, "I'm one more in a long line of prophets predicting this wonderful day". He's saying, "No, no. Today in your hearing, as you listen to me, this has been fulfilled". It's one of the most extraordinary messianic claims made in the gospels, that Jesus knows who he is, what his prophetic identity is, given to him as son by the father. To be not just one more prophet among many, but to be the very word made flesh. The incarnation of the divine presence in our world for its transformation. That's what he's announcing.

Now here's what I find really interesting. In Mark's telling of this story, the people are just immediately outraged and they think this is blasphemous, and how dare this man say these things? But in Luke, it's interesting because their first reaction is not negative. It's positive. Listen. "And all spoke highly of him, and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth". Well, I think we see why now in Luke's version because listen to what follows. "They also asked, 'Isn't this the son of Joseph?'"

Here's what I think is going on here. Why are they first so happy about this? That this man is announcing himself as the Messiah? And undoubtedly, they've heard some of these amazing he's been doing in the surrounding towns. They know there's something extraordinary going on here, and now he's telling us, "I'm the Messiah". And well, "Isn't he Joseph's son? Hey, we know Joseph". This is local boy made good. They must be thinking, "Well, here's an opportunity. If this local kid from this town is the Messiah of Israel, this will redound to our benefit". Now see. Watch, everybody. Watch. It's an ancient and perennial problem in religion. What's God up to? Making my life better, making my life easier.

That's why I'm religious. That's why I pray, that God might benefit me. Give me what I want. Give my people, my nation, my tribe, what we want. It's for our benefit. You want a contemporary version of this, it's called the prosperity gospel, right? "Hey, if I'm in line with Christ and I pray sufficiently, well then, things will go well for me". I think we got a bit of this going on here is, "Hey, hey. This is a great opportunity for us," because watch now what Jesus does. It's extremely interesting how he undermines this instinct. He throws them for a loop precisely by telling them two stories from the Old Testament tradition.

Now, these are pretty obscure to us, but the people of his time would've known both very well. One has to do with the prophet Elijah, the other with the prophet, Elisha, Elijah's successor. The Elijah story, we know it, is during a time of drought, all of Israel is in danger. People are starving and they're thirsting. The Lord sends Elijah not to anyone in Israel, but precisely to a widow in Zarephath. That means to a woman outside of Israel. And there's that great story of she gives her last to make the little cake for Elijah, and then the jug of oil and the flour never run out. Remember that story? But Jesus' point is, look, he sent Elijah not to Israel, but to a widow outside of Israel. Then the Elisha story is the story of Naaman.

Remember Naaman, the Syrian general, an enemy of Israel. A commander of an enemy army. Naaman has leprosy. He comes begging to Israel, finds Elisha the prophet, tells him to be seven times in the Jordan and then Naaman is cured. Again, the point is that the prophet intervened not to benefit someone in Israel, but in fact an enemy of Israel, an outsider. At this point, the crowd gets mad. Listen. "When the people in the synagogue heard this, they were filled with fury. They rose up, drove him out of the town, let him to the brow of the hill". Oh, it's so human, isn't it? "Hey, this looks pretty good. This is our local boy who's the prophet and maybe he's even the Messiah, this is going to redound our benefit".

On purpose, Jesus undercuts this instinct. "Jeremiah, I've appointed you a prophet to the nations. Not just for the benefit of Israel, not for your personal benefit. No, no. I've appointed you a prophet to the nations". Jesus is saying, "I am the Messiah. This is fulfilled in your hearing. But I exist, and my mission, is not just for your private benefit, but is meant now for the whole world". Oh, this idea that I hit upon all the time, everybody. Israel has its own identity over and against the world, yes. For the sake of the world, that it might become leaven and light and salt for the world. And so Jesus here is telling them, "No, no. My messiahship is to be one of service, not one of self interest".

Okay, let me draw it together now by making this a little more concrete for us now. We have a tendency, we sinners, to read our religious lives in this self-interested way. "Okay, if I go to mass and if I pray sufficiently and I follow God's moral law, then God will give me good things". Well, I don't know how anyone can read a page of the Bible and think that makes sense. Show me where the Bible gives us that assurance, that if I just follow all the divine laws properly, then I will receive worldly benefits and comfort. I mean, almost a contrary. Almost a contrary. How is God acting? God is always acting in such a way that the grace he gives us is meant to be given way.

Let me say that again. It's such an important principle. Yes, the Lord gives us grace. He reveals things to us. He draws us into his life, he invites us into the liturgy, he invites us into moral excellence. Yes, indeed. And all that's a grace, but what's it meant to do? It's meant finally to flow through us, to become a grace for others. "I do all these things, Lord, and what benefit is there to me"? Maybe it's the benefit you've been to many others. A bit corny, I'm sure. But as I record these words, we're not too far from the Christmas season, and we all watched It's A Wonderful Life. But you see, that's the deeply biblical message to the heart of that movie, is George Bailey is this deeply good, man. I mean, he's done all the right things.

Does he have worldly success? No. He has a modicum of it, but he's constantly frustrated that so many other people, who are aren't nearly as good as he is, are experiencing all kinds of worldly goods for themselves. But see, what does he learn by the end? And we all know that story now. It's a contemporary myth. That in fact, he has allowed the graces he was given to flow through him to the benefit of everybody around him. "To my big brother, George, the richest man in town," says his brother at the end. He's not rich in the eyes of the world, not rich financially. He's the spiritually richest man in the town, because he was appointed prophet to the nations. He imitated his master, Jesus, who's a Messiah not for his private benefit or for the private benefit of his townsman, but is a messiah precisely for the world.

In these strange little ancient stories of the call of these prophetic figures, will unearth this fundamental spiritual principle. The grace you've been given, it's not meant for you. It's meant now to be given through you to the world. And in the process, if you follow that, you find yourself increasing 30, 60, and 100 fold. And God bless you.
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