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Watch 2022-2023 online sermons » Robert Barron » Robert Barron - King of All, Warrior of Mercy

Robert Barron - King of All, Warrior of Mercy

Robert Barron - King of All, Warrior of Mercy

Peace be with you. Friends, we come to the great feast of Christ the King, which is always the last Sunday of the liturgical year. Think of the king coming at the end of a long procession into his palace. Well, this is Christ the King at the end of the great procession of the liturgical year. What I want to do is look at three dimensions of Christ's kingship, one from each of the three readings proposed for today. The first one has to do with David. We're looking at the Second Book of Samuel, a book that I spent a number of years of my life working on. I wrote a theological commentary on Second Samuel. And we have a reference here to the time when David became king of all the tribes.

So he was involved in a great civil war with the followers of Saul for a long time. David consolidated his power in the southern part of the Holy Land. But then finally the tribes from the north came to him and here's what they said: "Here we are, your bone and your flesh". It's an interesting move. They weren't just saying, "Here we are, your subjects. Here we are, willing to live under your political leadership". They acknowledged somehow they were flesh and bone with David, that they were part of his mystical body, if you want. What we see here is a theme that's basic in the Bible: the king is the one who draws the tribes together in his person. Not just through his political machinations, but in his very person, he's the one who brings the nation together.

The theologian Johann Adam Müller, he wrote in the early part of the nineteenth century, proposed an understanding of priesthood and the episcopacy and the papacy I've always found compelling. What he said was every parish needs a single person to be the sign and effector of its unity. That's why every parish needs a pastor, not just a pastoral team or not just three or four that work together, but one figure who symbolizes and brings about the unity of the parish. It's also, he said, why every diocese needs a bishop, not a team of bishops, not a committee, but needs one person who in this mystical way can draw together. He sums up the unity of the whole diocese.

And Müller was writing at a time when there was a lot of controversy between Catholics and Protestants about the papacy. Why should there be this one great monarchical ruler? So that was sort of the Protestant objection. Müller's answer was, same principle. The whole Church worldwide needs a single figure in whom they can find their unity. So prior to any particular decisions the pope makes or a bishop or a pastor makes, there's this symbolic quality. David had it. "We recognize," they said, "you are bone of our bone, flesh of our flesh. In you we find our unity".

Now apply this, everybody, to Christ. Who is he? He's the one in whom the whole world finds its unity. When the Son of Man is lifted up on the cross, he will draw all people to himself. Mount Zion, the true pole of the earth, all the tribes go up, the tribes of the Lord. But through the tribes of the Lord, all the tribes of the world. I always think when I talk about these things of the great arms of Bernini's Colonnade that reach out from St. Peter's. And the symbolism is very clear: they're meant to embrace the whole world. What we all say to Christ is we are bone of your bone and flesh of your flesh. We are members of your Mystical Body. Under your kingship, we find our unity.

Oh, you know, why shouldn't the Church be run by a committee? Well, we're not going to find our unity the same way. Why is there one Lord, one faith, one Baptism? Same reason. We find our unity under Christ's kingship. Okay, a related theme now, coming from that second reading from Paul to the Colossians. It's a hymn of praise in many ways, this letter to the cosmic Christ. It's a beautiful theme that in Christ, all things in the world are kind of drawn together. They were created by him. They were created for him. He's the alpha, he's the omega, that from which all things come, the one to whom all things return, and so on. But Paul also speaks in Colossians of Jesus the warrior.

Now, mind you, every single king in Israel was a warrior. It's part of what it meant to be king. You did battle with the enemies of Israel. As I've said to you before, read the Bible symbolically here. Israel standing for the power of God in the world, all of its enemies standing for the power of sin. So of course, Israelite kings did battle. Now this could be symbolized by the Amalekites or the Philistines or the Assyrians or the Babylonians or the Greeks or the Romans. They symbolize opposition to God's ways. But every king of Israel is a fighter. So is Jesus. From the beginning, he's opposed. Remember, we hear that when the coming of Christ is announced, this Christ child, Herod and all of Jerusalem with him tremble in anxiety.

Herod tries to stamp him out in the most brutal way possible. From the moment he appears publicly on the scene, Jesus is opposed by forces both visible and invisible. The visible forces come out against him. Whether it's the scribes, the Pharisees (the representatives of the official religion of the time), whether it's the political authorities, the visible enemies come out to meet him, and so do the invisible enemies. From the beginning, Jesus is an exorcist. Jesus confronts the invisible powers of darkness. And then of course, his whole life comes to a climax on the cross, where all the powers of darkness come out at him. They come after him.

Here's how Paul puts it: "He delivered us from the power of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son". That's an extraordinary line, everybody. He's talking about God the Father here. He, the Father, delivered us from the power of darkness. That's all of us sinners caught in our personal sin, but also in the sort of systemic sin. He sent his Son, he, the Father, into godforsakenness, into the darkness. Why? To wrest us from it. That couldn't be easy. Come on. That's why he was a fighting king. There'd be a battle involved because the powers of darkness, and fellow sinners, you know what I'm talking about, you know what I'm talking about both personally and institutionally, the powers of darkness do not want to let us go.

And so there's got to be a mano a mano. There's got to be a combat. And the Son of God entered into the list with the powers of darkness. He went mano-a-mano, hand-to-hand combat. Read the Gospels now under that rubric. Don't think of Jesus as some harmless little ethical or spiritual teacher from long ago. That's exactly how people today want to domesticate him, by the way. Oh yeah, a lot of different teachers and Sufi mystics and rabbis and Hindu sages, and then there's Jesus. But that's not getting this point at all. That renders him harmless. I can set him aside. No, no, the real Christ is a warrior, and he's come to do intense battle.

Again, "he delivered us from the power of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son". You see, this king did battle with the king of the fallen world, wrested us from his grip and brought us into his kingdom. You want to understand the Church, by the way, up and down the ages? Continuing exactly that work. Why did Jesus say, by the way, to Peter, "You are Peter. Upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it". That doesn't mean hell's going to come after us and we're going to be able to withstand it. No, no. It's the opposite. It's the opposite. The gates, that's for you to attack an enemy city. It was the weakest point. What he's saying is the gates of hell will not prevail against us. We're on the march.

See, we're now the army gathered under the banner of Christ the King. And we continue to do battle with these powers, continuing to wrest people from their grip. Seminarians, priests, listen to me. That's our job. That's our job, to enter into this struggle under the kingship of Christ. Okay, on purpose, I'm using some pretty harsh language there: strong, warrior, battle. But now look at the Gospel, and we see how really wonderfully strange this whole thing is. What do we find? Well, sounds like you describing, Bishop, a Davidic warrior who's going to be taking out a sword, or adjust the metaphor, taking out a machine gun and tanks and bazookas and is going to go after the powers of darkness.

How does the Davidic king fight? He's mounted up on a Roman cross, the worst, most painful, most humiliating way to die. The clearest sign possible that you were not the Messiah of Israel, that you were put to death at the hands of Israel's enemies. It looks for all the world like the powers of darkness just won. Maybe this guy put up a good show for a while, but at the end of the day, the powers of darkness did him in. That's what it looked like for all the world. What does he say from that cross but "Father, forgive them, they know not what they do"? The cross is precisely the way the king fought, allowing all the darkness of the world to come at him. He absorbed it, so to speak, listen, in the ever greater divine mercy.

When we fight evil on its own terms, we lose. By that very act we give into it. What Jesus did was he took all of the evil of the world into himself and then swallowed it up in the divine mercy that's greater than anything that's in the world. That's why the risen Jesus, when he appears to his disciples and he shows his wounds, the wounds of battle, if you want, those are the wounds of the king that went all the way in this mano a mano struggle with evil. But he showed his wounds as signs of battle. But then he said "shalom" to them. "Peace". What he offered was a word of forgiveness. It's through non-violence and forgiving love that Christ the King wins the battle, transfers us from the power of darkness into his own kingdom. It's in that great act that we find our unity in him.

See, this is Christ the King, everybody. Take him with utter seriousness. Don't just turn that into a bland metaphor. No, no. He's a king in whose army we are called to fight. But then don't understand that metaphor in worldly terms, like we're going to fight with the weapons of the world. No, no. It's through God's self-emptying love, through God's forgiveness, that evil is conquered.

And so for all of us today, the question remains. It's been the same question for the past two thousand years. Are you going to fight in his army or not? Because as St. Ignatius saw so clearly, go through his spiritual exercises, at the end of the day, we got to join one army or the other. You join the army of the devil, you join the army of the fallen world, or you join Christ's army. That's the only decision that finally matters. So on this solemnity and this great feast of Christ the King, let's acknowledge him, the one in whom we find our unity, the one who fought the good fight all the way down, precisely through nonviolent and forgiving love. You going to join his army or not? And God bless you.
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