Proper 27 Year C 2019
Kevin Gore, St. Andrew’s Mountain Home
Mortality is a difficult subject. Most of recorded human history brings us names that we can recite from memory, names of ancient Greco-Roman heroes, names of the prophets of Israel, names from stories that are told and retold. For some people that is what they seek in life, to be remembered through story. In the not too distant past, and still for many today, there was a big focus on ensuring you had children, so that someone would remember you.
In more recent years people have turned to technology to try and beat their mortality. Cosmetic surgery, continued research into cryogenic preservation, and science fiction about downloading your consciousness into computers all occupy our thoughts. But for now at least, we know that the end comes for us all at some point; the end of this particular earthly existence anyway. As Christians though, there is something more to that, something that requires our faith, but offers us a far better outlook than even being remembered in stories or being thawed out in the 25th century. We have the promise of a life to come, a resurrection at the end of all things.
In today’s reading from Luke, Jesus finds himself once again confronted with an intellectual duel of words. These types of encounters we see many times, and it’s basically how a person obtained social standing and credibility in this particular society. At this point in Luke, Jesus has finally arrived at Jerusalem for the last days of his ministry. He is teaching in the temple, he is constantly being tested by the authorities, and they are trying to catch him in a blasphemy so that they have a reason to bring him up on charges.
A group of Sadducees comes to Jesus trying to discredit him, perhaps even make him look foolish. The Sadducees saw themselves as the religious intellectuals of the time. They had the Law, the institution, power, and wealth. But they didn’t worry themselves as much with the overly religious ideologies. They believed that what mattered most was the written law and strictly following traditions. Their entire focus relied on the here and now. The Sadducees and the Pharisees often debated and fought over their theologies. The Sadducees think that asking Jesus about reality in the resurrection will make him look silly and superstitious. They already don’t even believe in the resurrection so they ask this question to make it sound even more absurd.
The question is put to Jesus: If a woman marries a man, and has no children, and her husband dies, then she marries all six of his brothers in succession, each one dying childless, whose wife is she in the resurrection? This is probably one of those scenes where you can see all the Sadducees standing around with smug, congratulatory looks on their faces, while Jesus listens to their absurd question. I’d like to hope that those looks were replaced with shock and defeat as Jesus skillfully answers in a way that basically says the question doesn’t matter at all. If you need a comparison, perhaps think of it as if someone asked you how you’re going to pay your taxes in the resurrection.
There are a couple important points to make about Jesus response. The first has to do with the way the Kingdom of God looks so different from what the people were used to then and still what we are used to. The second has more to do with our faith and an important aspect of our Christian doctrine.
First, Jesus addresses a very basic social understanding of marriage at that time. If I were to crudely rephrase the question the Sadducees ask Jesus, instead of saying “who’s wife will she be?” they are effectively asking, “who is she going to belong to or which husband will own her” in the resurrection. Jesus offers an answer that tells the Sadducees that their understanding of the world does not work the same way in the Kingdom of God. This woman is no longer defined by who her husband is. She is a child of God, claimed by God, and resurrected by God. It does not matter who her husband is or that she had no children because she does not need any of those things to be of worth in the resurrection.
This doesn’t mean Jesus is against marriage or children. Remember he has a lot to say about how children are treated, about how widows and orphans are treated, and about the practices of divorce. All of this centers around a person’s worth in society at the time, and how that is totally different in the view of God. It’s not to say that marriage is meaningless, or that children aren’t worth the effort. Amy Richter on her commentary says, “Marriage is for this age. It can be life-giving in this age. It can be holy for this age. But it can’t get you into heaven, and neither can having children or not having them, being remembered by name or not. And maybe that means that Christians are to think seriously about what marriage is for, and how and why and whether we parent children, whether we try to live through them, or raise them to know their first and most important identity is as children of God; whether we regard them as the future, or see them as the present, because here they are, gifts and children of God – right now.”
What Jesus is teaching is a Theological point, and it has everything to do with the last verse in today’s reading, “Now he is God not of the dead, but of the living; for to him all of them are alive.” We don’t need to be remembered in ballads or cryogenically frozen because our faith teaches us a truth greater than any promise this world can make: God has brought grace and resurrection to the world, through Jesus Christ, and now we too will follow that same path. We know that Jesus is resurrected, right now, ascended to God, but is alive in bodily form. We get to follow him at the end of all things, in the eschaton when everyone is raised up and we are all reconciled as one Kingdom.
When Jesus mentions the burning bush and Moses, and the statement that God is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, this clues us in that God already dwells within the reality of the resurrection. God is the God of the living because we are all to be raised up. Those that have gone before us, those that are with us now, and those that are yet to come. We all are the living through the resurrection that God brings us. Whether your name is remembered or not, whether you are immortalized in tale or not, God remembers them and God will remember us. God keeps us all and sees all of us as the living, as we will be in the resurrection of the age to come.