Sunday, November 10, 2013

Pentecost 25C

It wasn’t a serious question. They were being sarcastic. And they weren’t trying to “snare” Jesus into blaspheming so they could punish him. They were setting a trap for Jesus so they could mock him.

They were the Sadducees. And sitting on their lofty religious perch, they weren’t worried about this hillbilly preacher from the sticks. This wandering backwater hayseed was no threat to them. They just wanted to have a little fun with Jesus by publicly humiliating him. 

The Sadducees play only a minor role in Jesus’ story. In fact, this is the only time Luke records Jesus talking with them. But this small encounter opens up a new world of possibility for how we see God’s future coming alive in Jesus - and in us.

According to the Jewish Virtual Library, the Sadducees were elitists who wanted to maintain the priestly caste, but they were also liberal in their willingness to incorporate Hellenism into their lives, something the Pharisees opposed. The Sadducees rejected the idea of the Oral Law and insisted on a literal interpretation of the Written Law; consequently, they did not believe in an after life, since it is not mentioned in the Torah. The main focus of Sadducee life was rituals associated with the Temple.

The Sadducees disappeared around 70 A.D., after the destruction of the Second Temple. None of the writings of the Sadducees has survived, so the little we know about them comes from their Pharisaic opponents.

These two "parties" (Sadducees and Pharisees) served in the Great Sanhedrin, a kind of Jewish Supreme Court made up of 71 members whose responsibility was to interpret civil and religious laws (from Jewish Virtual Library).

These Sadducees wanted to show Jesus just how dumb the idea of resurrection and an afterlife is, so they set up an outrageous scenario based on family obligations outlined in the Law of Moses. Here’s a woman who went through seven husbands, and they inquire as to which husband gets her in the afterlife. 

Since men could have multiple wives, but women couldn’t have multiple husbands, this might provoke a fist-fight in the heavenly realms once this woman walks through the door with these seven guys anxiously awaiting her arrival.

Jesus doesn’t accept the premise of their question. It’s obvious to him what’s going on. He knows that the Sadducees are making fun of him by making up this insane hypothetical situation, and mocking the type of Jewish tradition he represents.

But, I don’t think he dismisses them outright either. I think he’s connecting their understanding of life, and his understanding of the afterlife.

"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.”

It’s tempting to make this passage all about what happens to us when we die. The hot button words like “angels” and “being children of the resurrection” make it hard to look in another direction. 

But I think there’s more here than we realize. He’s opening their understanding of resurrection to more than the caricature of what they thought it was. He’s broadening their understanding of life - and death - and life again.

Jesus is saying that the resurrection isn’t some far off promise that’s way in the future.

And he’s not saying that resurrection is reserved for those who’ve finished their course on earth.

Jesus is saying that resurrection is HERE. NOW. IN HIM.

And not just with him. But with everyone.

Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to Jesus, weren’t just heavenly creatures living in eternal bliss in the presence of God. They weren’t just angelic beings seated around God’s throne singing eternal praises to God.

But Jesus was saying that they were ALIVE to the Sadducees - and to all the family of God - they were ALIVE by how they impacted their lives in that day. 

They were alive in their stories, the stories that shaped a people. 

They were alive in the Law that created their national identity. 

They were alive in the memory that hovered over their daily lives as people of God.

Jesus opened their eyes to see that resurrection happens in A LOT of ways. Because we worship a God of the living and not of the dead, and there are A LOT of ways to live. There are A LOT of ways to “do” resurrection.

I’m thinking of Linda Stengel, who has closed her eyes in death and is waiting for her name to be called on the Day of Resurrection. And we mourn her passing. 

But Jesus is saying that she is ALIVE. Here. Among us. Now. Not in an obvious physical sense. But in the memory that hovers over our community. In the legacy of our relationships with her. In the many gifts of love that she left us.

When I shared the news of her death, many folks immediately talked about her stitching. Then they shared stories of their time here. And people often talked about her in the PRESENT tense, as if she is still with us. 

And, of course, she is.

Resurrection can happen in a lot of ways.

Too often, we think of resurrection as something that will happen later, at the end of time, the next step after death. As if THIS life is just a prologue to the NEXT one. And God’s REAL life is reserved for us for after we die.

That’s NOT what Jesus is saying. As with the Sadducees, Jesus is calling us to see the world with resurrection eyes. To see new life blossoming all around us. To see life emerging out of death.

Jesus opened their eyes to a world were God was everywhere; where justice, compassion, peace, healing, and forgiveness was in the air they breathed. Where mercy was their daily food, and love was their daily drink. He opened their eyes to a broader vision of resurrection.

Jesus opened their eyes, and now they didn’t see this world as Heaven’s waiting room. They saw Heaven come to earth in Jesus.

I think that’s the same for us. That who we are as Christians, through the gift of faith, given to us in the waters of baptism, where we are joined to Jesus’ death and resurrection, we are given new eyes through which to see the world.

Instead of cruelty we seek and see justice.
Instead of hostility we seek and see reconciliation.
Instead of judgment we seek and see mercy
Instead of indifference we seek and see compassion
Instead of selfishness we seek and see servanthood.
Instead of sin we seek and see forgiveness.
Instead of death we seek and see life.

Seeing the world through resurrection eyes means seeing hope where others only see despair, it means seeing possibility where others see only dead ends, it means seeing miracles where others see only mere events,.

Seeing the world through resurrection eyes opens our mouths to declare what God has done in our lives, it’s about bearing witness to the God who has raised US from the dead, who has planted in our hearts the gift of faith, so that we can fill the world with God’s love.

And there will be a day when all those promises are fulfilled, and we will stand before God, singing songs of praise and hymns thanksgiving to the God who rescues us from the power of death, and makes us alive together with Christ.

For we serve the God not of the dead, but of the living; for to God all are alive!

May this be so among us! Amen!


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