11/10/2019 Twenty-Second Sunday after Pentecost The text is Luke 20: 27-38 .
27Some Sadducees, those who say there is no resurrection, came to [Jesus] 28and asked him a question, “Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies, leaving a wife but no children, the man shall marry the widow and raise up children for his brother. 29Now there were seven brothers; the first married, and died childless; 30then the second 31and the third married her, and so in the same way all seven died childless. 32Finally the woman also died. 33In the resurrection, therefore, whose wife will the woman be? For the seven had married her.”
34Jesus said to them, “Those who belong to this age marry and are given in marriage; 35but those who are considered worthy of a place in that age and in the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage. 36Indeed they cannot die anymore, because they are like angels and are children of God, being children of the resurrection. 37And the fact that the dead are raised Moses himself showed, in the story about the bush, where he speaks of the Lord as the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. 38Now he is God not of the dead, but of the living; for to him all of them are alive.”
May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to You, O Lord, my rock and my Redeemer.
Grace, mercy, and peace are yours from God the Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
As if Jesus’ quarrels and disputes with the Pharisees weren’t troublesome enough, now that he’s in Jerusalem, the Sadducees decide it’s their turn to jump into the fray. Remember that this morning’s gospel verses recount what happened shortly after Jesus’ entry into the holy city, where the temple of God is located.
Up until this point in his ministry, Jesus has been preaching more or less in the general vicinity of Galilee, a relatively rural, backwater area of ancient Judea. That said, even in these small towns the Pharisees held sway when it concerned matters of appropriate Jewish religious behavior. Most every community boasted a synagogue; and where there were faithful Jews, there were also the ever-present Pharisees. These were the lawyers, the clerics who interpreted biblical law and ensured that no one could claim ignorance of God’s commandments. You will recall that Jesus engaged in quite a bit of conflict and theological sparring with these Pharisees.
But, in Luke this morning, things take a bit of a turn. This is the first time Jesus is accosted by the Sadducees, and as we established earlier, this is because these clerics were the administrators with primary authority in the temple; and it was inevitable that Jesus would eventually encounter them. They were among the elite, aristocratic class in Jewish society; the ‘chief priests’ of the temple that we read about were customarily Sadducees. And they were generally at odds with the Pharisees, the other group of interpreters of Jewish law. The main difference in their theologies was whether or not there was life after death, a resurrection. The Sadducees based their theology solely on the Pentateuch, the first five books of Moses in the Old Testament. And in these five books, which compose the Torah, there is no mention of life after death. Thus, the Sadducees believed there was nothing to look forward to after life on this earth was over. So, they were “sad, you see”.
Conversely, the Pharisees held a more expansive view of Jewish doctrine. They included the entirety of the Old Testament in their theology, to include the Prophets, the Psalms, and the other Writings. Within these scriptures are found references to resurrection and an ongoing life in God’s presence. So, given this finite worldview of the Sadducees, and their affirmation that there is no afterlife, the question they posed to Jesus was intended as a slight against a belief in resurrection. It was meant to entangle Jesus in a theological argument regarding who the hypothetical widow would be married to in heaven; which of the seven husbands.
Although the question posed by the Sadducees was a foolish one and was intended to trip up Jesus, it was based on the leverite law concerning Jewish marriage. While archaic and rather distasteful to our modern sensibilities it was intended to secure the continuity of the husband’s family lineage. If a husband died without an heir, it was understood that his widow would marry his brother in hopes of producing a son to perpetuate the family name. By citing the example of a series of seven betrothals, and asking what these marriages would be like in heaven, the Sadducees offered an extreme circumstance that they felt Jesus would get tangled up in. Rather than engage his questioners in a hypothetical debate, Jesus deftly redirects their absurd query into a description of the reality of the resurrected life. And he does so by reminding the Sadducees that the Torah itself states that the Lord is the God of Abraham, and of Isaac, and of Jacob. And no matter they are no longer alive on earth, they must exist in some manner, since they are so revered by the Jewish faithful. Note that Jesus points out that the Scripture states that the Lord IS the God of these patriarchs. ‘Is’, not ‘was’. This confirms that the Lord is God of the living and not of the dead. ‘All of them are alive’, Jesus clearly states. Even though the question of the wife who married the all the brothers was conjecture, I must admit if I were husband-to-be number seven, I would be a bit hesitant to enter into marriage with a widow who outlived all six of my brothers.
While Jesus uses these verses to counter a specific trick question from his detractors, he does give us a glimpse into what the resurrected life will be like; albeit a rather vague one. Jesus tells the Sadducees, and us that when our time on this earthly domain is over that the resurrected life will be one of a vastly new way of being. We’re told that we cannot die anymore and that all will be like angels and children of God. I’ll admit this is a bit ambiguous, since these describe an existence that transcends our earthly understanding. It’s difficult to fathom that which our limited comprehension is unable to imagine. Suffice it to say that we should not limit our imagination to the confines of our temporal understanding of God’s grand design.
What we can be sure of is that God’s reign transcends any assumptions we have regarding our current way of being and what the resurrected life will be like. We ought to be careful that we don’t let our human imaginations presume to put limits on God’s capability to create a transcendent resurrected life; one of a new and different form of existence. I suspect that eternal life, by its very name, will not be burdened by the passing of time as we know it. We are promised a renewal of our temporal bodies. We each have a reserved room in the Father’s house. What of a continuation of our earthly family associations? We are assured we will enjoy a closer, a nearer relationship with God. And because of this nearness to God’s presence, we will be related to all humanity through our relationship with the Father.
So, we are best served by living lives now that are in grateful response to the gift of the Gospel of Christ. And we do this by building righteous relationships with all our neighbors, near or far. Since we will all be “children of God’ in the next life, it only makes sense to act in this one as though we already are God’s progeny. Scripture tells us that the “Kingdom of Heaven” is the plane of existence we are promised by our faith in Christ, and by God’s grace. It is also true that the ‘kingdom’ already exists in the here and now; it’s incumbent upon us as followers of this Jesus to act in ways that reveal this kingdom to others. And through our actions we alert others to the reality of God’s kingdom now, and the one to come. When we feed the hungry, clothe the needy, and provide shelter to the homeless, we confirm our righteous relationships to all the children of God. The faithful and holy actions that define our relationships to our neighbors in this life are forerunners of the blessed relationship with all humanity in the next one. Because, in the resurrected life, all our neighbors will be “like angels and children of God”.
Will you pray with me? Good and gracious God, help us to acknowledge that we are not able to comprehend the majesty of all that you have made. Reassure us that the resurrected life is one of an existence that, while our minds are not capable of comprehending, is the culmination of the grand design you have created.
When we struggle with our often-fractured relationships in this world, send your Holy Spirit to remind us that a righteous relationship with you and all your children awaits us in your Kingdom.
And in Jesus’ name the people of God say…Amen.
God is good, all the time. All the time, God is good. Amen.