Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Pentecost 22C

Luke 20:27-38

27Some Sadducees, those who say there is no resurrection, came to him 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 God is God not of the dead, but of the living; for to God all of them are alive."

Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem: to his trial, conviction, crucifixion, death, and resurrection. All three synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) have a passage similar to this, which means sit up, take notice, and ask why!

We know God as light, love, and life. God has nothing to do with death, nothing about God concerns death. In many ways we can't even contrast God with death, because death and God don't belong in the same sentence or the same thought.

Sadducees were the religious leaders who did not believe in resurrection. Rather than affirming all the [Hebrew] scriptures, their bible was only the Pentateuch or Torah, the "Five Books of Moses" that don't explicitly reference resurrection. The Sadducees assumed that with Moses and God being such good friends, God would have informed Moses if resurrection from death existed. Quite a few of our readings have included Pharisees, another group of religious leaders who were ultra-legalistic and added extra commandments and requirements, though for the good reason they wanted to lead perfect lives and please God. Pharisees did believe in resurrection! The easy way to remember which group was which is to realize the Sadducees didn't affirm resurrection, so they were "sad-you-see."

Today's text: like most humans, the Sadducees who interacted with Jesus had a lot of anxieties about death and about continuing a presence and influence in the world after they died. Sadducees believed death of the human body meant total annihilation of everything that individual had been. In their minds, the only way to keep on "living" was to have kids (posterity, offspring, descendants) who'd keep the family name going and keep doing good in the community. With their preoccupation about death, they teased Jesus' theological sensibilities with a question about seven serial spouses.

Jesus explains God has nothing to do with death; everything about God is deathless, everything about God relates to life. Jesus tells his interlocutors that to God, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (who in human terms died a long time before Moses) still are alive, never had been dead—though as Pastor Peg pointed out, in human terms, physical, biological death still affects us, death is a human reality. Although we humans consider anyone who has died as not alive (true in basic human terms), to God there is no death. God has zero to do with death, so we can trust in life. Resurrection isn't a free-floating, spiritual, disembodied presence; as we confess in the creeds, "I believe in the resurrection of the body and the life of the world to come." Jesus' friends recognized him in his post-resurrection appearances! His hands carried the scars of crucifixion, but he was totally healed and whole, still the same person, which will be our experience, as well.

The Sadducees' seven serial spouses? For them, marrying and having kids related to their anxieties about overcoming death. In the reign of God, people get married or otherwise form a lifelong public commitment; they often have offspring because it's a way to celebrate life that comes from God and continues forever in God.

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