-Most Reverend Robert Barron, Auxilliary Bishop of Los Angeles
April 12, 2020
“Here’s the first thing I want you to know about the Resurrection: it happened. Why do I say it that way? This has been around for a long time, but many people today, way too many, will say, well, the Resurrection is a nice story. It’s a nice myth, like many other myths of dying and rising gods. We can find these in different cultures and religions all over the world. It’s just one more iteration of this ancient story. Maybe has a moral meaning to it. Now, I’d be willing to bet if there were some young Catholics, young Christians listening to me, I bet you’ve heard some version of that in your college or university classroom.
It’s a very common view and kind of a cultural elite. Well, whenever I hear this, I think of a saying of C.S. Lewis, the great writer. Lewis, one of whose academic specialties was the study of mythic literature. Lewis said, “Those who say the Gospels are mythic haven’t read many myths.” Now, here’s what he meant, I think. A myth, and I love the myth, by the way. I remember vividly I was in seventh grade when I was kind of introduced to the Greek and Roman myth. I had to do a report on them. I’ve loved those stories from that day to this day.
Myths are stories with a symbolic importance. They speak of great general truths about the world, about nature, about society, about the psyche. Think, for example, of the gods and goddesses of Ancient Greece and Rome. Well, they’re personifications, if you want, of the natural necessities. Think of Poseidon of the sea, and Zeus of the air, and Demeter of the earth, et cetera, et cetera. Wonderful myths. They convey great general truths, which is why, by the way, myths are always set in some kind of indefinite, distant time.
We say once upon a time. Or bring it up to date: a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away. See, Star Wars is a very good example of a modern myth. A very effective one, I must say. It’s captured the minds of people all over the world. That’s because it taps into this sort of mythic consciousness. As I say, great. I like the myths. But we’re not dealing here in Christianity with a myth. The Resurrection is not one more iteration of this ancient story. Now, here’s the clue. You heard it in our first reading from the Acts of the Apostles.
Listen. This is St. Peter, by the way, speaking. “You know what’s happened all over Judea, how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power. We are witnesses of all that he did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem.” As I say, myths are set once upon a time in a galaxy far, far away. No one ever wonders, hmm, who was the political leader when Hercules was around? Or you know when Osiris rose from the dead? Who was the pharaoh at that time? I mean, no one’s gonna ask a question like that because those are inappropriate questions.
But listen to this man. You know what happened in Judea and about this Jesus from Nazareth. You know Nazareth, where that is. And the country of the Jews, that means the area around Jerusalem, and things that happened in the city of – you people know all this. This is for my Southern California friends. But apply it now in your own situation. If I were to begin a story this way, I met this guy first in Oxnard, and then I saw him again in Montecito, and then just last week, he was here in Santa Barbara, would you think for a second that I was about to tell you a mythic story?
No. You’d say he’s telling me something that really happened to him. He’s naming times and places. Can you hear now how Peter’s language is much more like that than it is like mythic language? Now, listen to how this thing ends, how Peter’s oration ends. Again, not some generic myth. “This man God raised on the third day and granted that He be seen, not by all the people, but by us, the witnesses chosen by God in advance, who ate and drank with Him after He rose from the dead.” Now, I suggest you can spend the rest of the Easter season with that last line. In fact, you can spend the rest of your life with that last line. We, who ate and drank with him, this Jesus from Nazareth, whom you saw, that one. We ate and drink with Him after He rose from the dead. Takes your breath away the realism of it.
Here’s something else. When you read a myth or you read, let’s say, a writing by a spiritual teacher, there’s something very serene about it. It’s conveying important truths, sure. But it’s told using a kind of detached, serene manner. Pick up the New Testament. Now, maybe a lot of you haven’t been reading much of the New Testament recently.
Pick it up, any page, Matthew through Revelation. What you find there is not serene, detached reflection on abstract spiritual truths. What you find on every page of it is what I would call a grab you by the lapels quality. See, something happened to these people. Myths can be made up in the privacy of your home or in a faculty lounge. You know what I’m saying? But these people aren’t talking that way. Something happened to them that was like an explosion. And the after effects are being felt to this moment. They wanted to go all over the world and tell everyone they possibly could that this Jesus rose from the dead.
Here’s something else. How many missionaries of Hercules are there? The answer? None. How many martyrs for Osiris are there? Answer? None. Because those are mythic figures. People don’t become missionaries and martyrs on behalf of mythic characters. Of Jesus? Missionaries? Are you kidding? These people went careering around the world with this urgent sense of mission to tell the whole world. Martyrs? Yep. Every single one of His most intimate followers, with the exception of John, met a martyr’s death.
Well, you can’t fly right now because of this coronavirus. But the minute that’s over, you can get on a plane if you want. You can fly to Rome. You can visit the grave of the man who said these words, “We who ate and drank with Him after His resurrection from the dead.” I’ll show exactly where he’s buried because it’s the biggest, most beautiful grave marker in the whole world. It’s called Saint Peter’s Basilica. And that’s where the man who said these words is buried, who was crucified upside down, rather than to deny the truth of what he saw. Myths? Give me a break, myths.
And again, young people listening to me, if you hear that in your college classrooms, or university, or you read it, don’t you believe it. That’s not what these people are talking about. And the explosive power of the Resurrection message felt to this day. Okay. I wanna tell you now three things. We got a little time. It’s the coronavirus. You’re not going anywhere. So, I’m gonna give you three implications, once we accept the fact of the Resurrection. Here’s the first one; the first implication of the Resurrection. Jesus is who He said He was. Think about Jesus, he’s always a great spiritual teacher.
Well, yeah. You could distill spiritual teachings from Jesus, sure. What was really interesting about Jesus was that He spoke and acted in the very person of God. Unless you love Me more than your mother and father, more than your very life, you are not worthy of Me. Can you imagine any other spiritual teacher saying that? That’d be the height of arrogance unless He in person is the highest good. You’ve heard it said in the Torah, but I say, for a first-century Jew, that was outrageous speech. Torah, highest law possible. The law that God gave to Moses.
Who could claim authority over it, except the author of the Torah himself? My son, your sins are forgiven you. And the people say, well, who does this man think he is? Only God can forgive sins. Quite right. Heaven and Earth will pass away. My words will never pass away. Who could say that except the eternal word of God? Now, what was the reaction to Jesus? Well, you can see it in the Gospel. Some, sure, they were fascinated and they followed Him. Others were kinda puzzled, and wondered about it. Others hated Him and hounded Him to His death because of it.
What did the first witnesses of the Resurrection realize? Huh. He is who He said He was. The Resurrection of Jesus from the dead is the ratification of his claim to speak and act in the very person of God. Now, listen. If Jesus is not just one spiritual teacher among many, one philosopher among many, but rather, if Jesus is Himself God made flesh, then we have to give our whole life to Him, right? If He is who He says He is, well then, I have to surrender my whole life to Him. There’s the first implication of the Resurrection. Here’s the second one: our sins are forgiven.
The resurrected Christ always does two things. Look at all the accounts of the Resurrection appearances. First, He shows His wounds, and then He says, “Shalom.” Now, the showing of the wounds. Why is that important? Don’t forget what you did. The author of life came, and we killed Him. There’s that stark message. I preached on it the other day. The author of life came, and we killed Him. I’m okay and you’re okay. Come on. Everything’s just fine with me. Give me a break. The wounds of Jesus are the sign of our own spiritual dysfunction, and don’t forget it, is what the risen Lord is saying.
That’s a salutary move that we are aware of our sinfulness. But then what follows the showing of the wounds? Not vengeance. Now, you’d expect that in any Hollywood movie, and actually, in many of the myths of the world. What would you expect? This poor man, who had been betrayed and denied, abandoned him at the moment of truth. And now, he’s back from the dead. What would you expect if you’re watching a Hollywood movie? Well, he’s gonna visit his vengeance upon them. But the risen Jesus says, “Shalom.” Peace.
And that’s a word, everybody, that is basic in the Bible. It sums up what God wants for His people, what God has wanted from the beginning. What sin has interrupted is shalom, peace. That means well-being at every level. But here’s the thing: to those who had denied, betrayed, run from him, abandoned him, he says a word of forgiveness and peace. We killed God, and God returned in forgiving love. You see what that means? Do you see what that means? We killed God, and God returned in forgiving love. That means there’s no sin that God can’t, in principle, forgive. There’s nothing that can finally separate us from the love of God.
And doesn’t Paul say exactly that in Romans? “I am certain that neither death nor life, neither angels nor principalities, neither height or death, or any other creature could ever separate us from the love of God.” Paul knows that because he met the risen Jesus, who showed his wounds and said, “Shalom.” The second great implication of the Resurrection is our sins are forgiven. Third and final implication: the Resurrection shows who is our king and what our mission ought to be. You remember Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor, puts a mocking sign over the cross, this pathetic figure crucified, and over the cross, the sign, “Jesus Nazarenus Rex Judaeorum,” Jesus of Nazareth, the king of the Jews.
And just so no one would miss it, Pilate put it in Hebrew and Greek, as well. So, everybody could see. It was meant as a joke. Look at this poor, pathetic man, who claimed to be the king of the Jews. What do they sense now after the Resurrection? That the joke was on Pilate because this risen Christ is, in fact, the king of the Jews, therefore, the king of all nations. And, deliciously, Pilate thereby became the first great Evangelist, announcing to all the nations in all the relevant languages, “You’ve got a new king.” Now, that’s the message of the first Christians.
Pick up your New Testament. Open up to any of the letters from Saint Paul. What will you find? Like a refrain, Jesus kurios, Jesus kurios, Jesus Christos, Jesus Christos. Jesus, the Lord. Jesus, the Messiah. Who was lord in that world? Well, there was a watchword: Kaiser kurios. Caesar’s lord. Caesar’s king. He’s the one to whom your allegiance is due. What’s Paul saying? How revolutionary it was. Not Kaiser, but rather someone whom Kaiser put to death, but whom God raised from the dead. Jesus kurios. Jesus is the lord. He’s the one now to whom your allegiance is due. See, and here’s the point. I’ll close everybody with this.
Here’s the point: stop messing around with Caesar and all of his successors to the present day. I mean, all these phony kings, all these false claimants to ultimate allegiance. Don’t give your life, and heart, and mind to them. Their day is over. Who’s the real king? Well, Pilate told us. Jesus Nazarenus Rex Judaeorum. Jesus of Nazareth, He’s the king. He’s the one now to Whom we should give our hearts, we should give our minds, we should give our energy, we should give our bodies and souls. He’s the one to Whom final allegiance is due. So, everybody, on this Easter day, rejoice because Jesus is Lord. Rejoice because our sins have been forgiven. Rejoice because we know who’s the king, and we have our mission.”
Love, Resurrection, & Easter joy,