By The Rev. Sherry Deets
25 Pentecost, Proper 27 – November 10, 2013
The Sadducees were only one segment of the Jewish community in the time of Jesus. Generally speaking, they were the old aristocracy, with ties to the temple priesthood. They were the religious and social conservatives who, unlike other Jews, accepted as Scripture only the five books of Moses: Genesis through Deuteronomy. They denied not simply the resurrection of the dead, but spirits and angels as well. This put them in conflict with both the common people and the Pharisees. It also put them in conflict with Jesus, whose proclamation of God’s kingdom they regarded as a threat to their comfortable little world.
And so it is that the Sadducees attempt to discredit Jesus through debate. They offer a hypothetical case: seven brothers marry the same woman one after another. Each brother dies in turn, leaving the woman a widow. Each subsequent brother attempts to have children with the woman. In this they are obedient to the law of Moses, which requires that a man marry the widow of his childless brother and produce children to preserve his brother’s memory.
“So far, so good,” say the Sadducees. “Now, Jesus,” they ask, “When this resurrection happens that you talk about, whose wife will this woman be? Which of the seven will be her husband?”
Not surprisingly, Jesus doesn’t do what they expect him to do. Instead, Jesus essentially tells them that they lack imagination. They don’t believe in the resurrection, because they have no idea what the resurrection actually is. Levirate marriage was a solution to a social problem: women being culturally forbidden from taking care of themselves. The Sadducees’ question revealed that their idea of the resurrection was that death was a mere interruption in life as it has always been, just with everyone back all at once. Therefore the problem of a woman married to one man at a time seven times in a row suddenly trying to figure out who she’s married to now. But Jesus rejects that view of the resurrection. It is not merely a continuation of this life. It’s something entirely different.
A continuation of life is not the Gospel message. Resurrected life is life lived in direct relationship with God. What Jesus teaches about is a new life. What Jesus experiences in his death and resurrection is a new life. What Jesus makes possible for us and all the world is a new life. Not resuscitation for more of the same, but resurrection for something different! Not a small life, easily managed, but a life that grows ever larger, the only life expansive enough to fill the God-shaped space inside us. It is this new life that the Gospel announces.
So, the Sadducees — whether ancient or modern — are wrong. There is a resurrection, a life to come, and it promises something better than this life. It is a world where the joyous awareness of God is never absent from anyone. It is a world where the light of God shines every day.
The Sadducees could know this, for sometimes eternal life breaks through into the here and now. We too can know this, because eternal life is not simply something stored up for us and stored away. It breaks through and changes life here and now. We can recognize these breakthroughs. We can welcome the new thing God is doing.
And God is doing something new! This novelty upsets those whose imaginations are so stunted that all they want is more of the same. But God’s novelty offers hope for those who find themselves in any way oppressed. God’s novelty offers hope to anyone who hungers and thirst for righteousness.
To regard the life to come as no more than a continuation of the here and now ends up trivializing both this life and the next. But to recognize that the next life is a new birth, a new age, the unveiled sight of God — this brings out the dignity of both that life and the one we are living now.
Frederick Beuchner, in his book Secrets in the Dark has this to say: “We labor to be born. All what little we have in us of holiness labors for breath, strains to be delivered of darkness into light. It is the secret, inner battle of every one of us. And through all our laboring, God also labors: to deliver what is whole in us from what is broken, to deliver what is true in us from what is false, until in the end we reach the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, Paul says—until in the end we become Christ ourselves, no less than that: Christs to each other and Christs to God.”
When the vision of God is recognized as the substance of the life to come, then even the hard times we now experience are found to be redeemed. For, truth be told, that vision of God shines so brightly that even through the failings of this life we can glimpse the glory of the next.
What I think Jesus is saying is that those who are willing to give their lives to God now will find God to be there when this journey of life is over. What we will discover there is beyond our wildest imaginations, but it will be life as God created it to be, and all our wondering about it, our conjectures, our images, won’t make a bit of difference. It all comes down to a matter of faith, doesn’t it? It is simply and finally a matter of faith.
Remember Job from the Hebrew scriptures? Job is a man who lost everything worth living for. In his loss and pain he turned to God, and kept his faith. In those ancient days before Jesus, he foresaw the resurrection, the wholeness, the living God. Job said, “I know that my Redeemer lives, and that at last he will stand upon the earth….then I shall see my God.”
May we all be so blessed. Amen.
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