Seward United Methodist Church
Saturday, December 15, 2018
Search this site.View the site map.

Rising Above

Luke 20:27-40

 We are 2000 years removed from Jesus’ culture.  So we’re not really all that aware of the diversity of opinions that existed in it.  We might think of 1st century Jewish culture as basically being one thing.  When we read the Gospels, we mostly encounter the Pharisees, who were the chief opponents of Jesus, and think that basically all Jews saw the world as they did.  That is not the case.  There were diverse opinions on matters of faith and politics in Jesus’ culture.  

The Pharisees and the Teachers of the Law, also called the Scribes, were basically the conservative faction.  They wanted to hold onto the past and preserve tradition.

The Chief Priests and the Sadducees were the more liberal faction.  They were more willing to change with the times.  They would go along to get along.

The Essenes, whom we really don’t read about in the Gospels, were the separatist faction.  They wanted nothing to do with politics.  They went off to live in the desert, to focus on their relationship with God.  They were like the Amish of today.

 And the Zealots, again, a group we don’t see much in the Gospels, were the radical faction.  They didn’t just want to hold onto the past.  They wanted to fight to bring it back!

 Each of these groups found something to like in Jesus, and something not to like in Jesus.  None of them endorsed him.  And in this chapter, we find different groups challenging Jesus, trying to trip him up.

 Here it’s the Sadducees.  Who are these guys?  Well, we don’t know exactly when they first appeared as a group, but we know they were first mentioned in the second century BC.  Many of them were priests and members of the aristocracy.  They were heavily involved in politics, and they were more willing to accommodate, willing to change things to get along in a Greco-Roman world.

 Theologically, they only accepted the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Bible as Scripture.  Since they found no explicit mention of angels or the resurrection in those books, they didn’t believe in them.  They also rejected the oral traditions handed down through the generations that were so important to the Pharisees.  

 They challenge Jesus with a question about marriage.  The practice that they are referring to here was called levirate marriage.  It comes from the Hebrew word LEVIR, which means “brother-in-law.”  The custom was that if a man died without children, then his brother was responsible to marry the widow and give her children, and the children would be the heirs of the dead man.  

 This was important in their culture for two reasons.  One was to keep family land within the family.  The second was to provide social security for childless women in a society where women really couldn’t earn a living.  

 So the story goes that seven brothers all marry the same woman and all die.  In the resurrection, whose wife will she be?  

 Jesus answers that marriage is an earthly reality.  There will be no marriage in the resurrection, just as there will be no death in the resurrection.    

 This probably isn’t something we want to hear from Jesus, right?  It makes it sound as if earthly relationships no longer exist in the resurrection or possibility even that there is no familiarity from this life.  But Jesus doesn’t say that.  Instead what Jesus is telling us is that the resurrection will not simply be a continuation of life as we know it.  It will be different because we will be different.  In this life, our relationships are limited by earthly realities, like sin and death.  Those things won’t exist in the resurrection.

 I think we should also point out that marriage was thought of differently in Jesus’ culture than in ours.  In Jesus’ culture, marriage was not thought of in terms of companionship as much as child-rearing and economic support for women.  And in the resurrection, there will be no child-rearing and no need for economic support. 

 At the end of the day, we really aren’t given a whole lot of answers in the Bible about what the resurrection life will be like.  The best answer we’re given is that it will be different because we will be different.  Maybe we can’t be given answers like we want because we can’t understand it yet.  It will be a mystery until it is revealed.  Now we can only see as in mirror dimly; but then we will see face to face, as Paul says.

 Jesus is trying to get his listeners to think on a different level.  Children of God are defined by their relationship to God, not their human relationships, not even marriage.  The resurrection life will be a new life.  It can’t be defined by this life.

 At the end of Jesus’ answer, the Teachers of the Law just can’t help themselves.  They blurt it out:  “You tell ‘em, Jesus!”  Now the Teachers of the Law were no friends of Jesus!  They didn’t like him at all!  But it’s like they just can’t pass up the opportunity to zing their theological and political adversaries.  They might not like Jesus, but if he tells it to the Sadduccees, they’ll applaud.  

 It reminds me of American politics.  Isn’t that what happens?  Jesus shoots down the anti-resurrection crowd and the pro-resurrection crowd says, “You tell ‘em!”  But Jesus isn’t playing their game.  He is trying to elevate the discussion.  He’s trying to get people to think on a higher level.  

 That’s how God has been working on me this year. I’ll be honest:  In the past I’ve gotten worked up about elections.  I’d be happy if my guy one; distraught if my guy lost.  I don’t want to do that anymore.  My identity is found in Jesus.  I am a child of God.  I am a child of the resurrection.  I am a citizen of the Kingdom of God.  And none of that changes on Tuesday.  None of it!  I am who I am because of the Great I AM, not the President-Elect.  

 Here’s what I’m going to do:  I’m going to go to the polls on Tuesday and vote for someone.  If my guy wins?  Eh, okay.  If my guy loses?  Eh, okay.  Whoever it is, I will pray for them as we should all pray for our leaders.  But it doesn’t change who I am.  And if you belong to God through Christ Jesus, it doesn’t change who you are either.  

Verse of the Day...