Luke 20:27-38 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
Some Sadducees, those who say there is no resurrection, came to Jesus and 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. Now there were seven brothers; the first married, and died childless; then the second and the third married her, and so in the same way all seven died childless. Finally the woman also died. In the resurrection, therefore, whose wife will the woman be? For the seven had married her.”
Jesus said to them, “Those who belong to this age marry and are given in marriage; but 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. Indeed they cannot die anymore, because they are like angels and are children of God, being children of the resurrection. And 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. Now God is God not of the dead, but of the living; for to God all of them are alive.”
The Sadducees, members of a scholarly sect, were a group of modern intellectuals of that time. They refused the idea of a continuation of life after death. According to them, everything comes to an end with death; therefore, life is to be lived as fully as possible within the boundaries of earthly time. That argument is one that continues to this day. Because their belief is in stark contrast with what Jesus teaches about survival after death, the Sadducees set an intellectual trap for him, thus hoping his answer will show that Jesus’ teaching about the resurrection of the dead is absurd.”
Jesus knows this imaginary scenario is a trap and meant to make fun of him. So he takes their questions seriously and makes this one basic point. “After their death they will no longer marry or be given in marriage, for they are now like angels, children of God, and will remain so forever. Certainly the decisive point that Jesus makes to the Sadducees is this: Death is the end of many things, but it is not the end of everything. Our death is not the end of God. In God’s compassion God puts [all creatures] in God’s heart, and they will not ever be excluded from it. As Eberhard Busch notes: “We humans are not eternal, but God’s love for us humans is eternal.” (Eberhard Busch; Feasting on the Word; year C; Vol 4)
How often Jesus is confronted, challenged, made fun of, ridiculed and dismissed by those in power – Priests, Pharisees, Sadducees. Some of them fear him, some who revile him, some who scoff at him, some who dismiss his teachings and presence. What is interesting to me is that this is usually done in a face-to-face manner because in Jesus’ day this was the primary method of dialogue. There was really no other way but direct communication. Can you imagine the threads if these interactions had been tweeted or put on Instagram, or Facebook? We also know that then, like now, everyone has an opinion.
We are also guilty of often stereotyping the challengers of Jesus without fully knowing the historical context. They are, however, hearing something quit new for their present time. Think how often it takes us to understand something that seems foreign or strange to us and how that may challenge us to think and or behave in new and different ways and that’s not always something we welcome, is it. And so, Jesus is questioned. Questioning is not a bad method of finding out what a person stands for, especially if the questions are honest ones.
One commentary noted that, “Jesus was asked a lot of questions during the time he was walking around the near east some 2,000 years ago. Some of them were pretty good questions: ‘What must I do to be saved?’ or ‘Whose fault is it that this man was born blind?’ Others were not nearly so profound. ‘Can my two sons get the good seats in heaven?’ ‘Can you make my brother split the family inheritance evenly?’ Selfishness and ambition can get in the way. But however misguided those questions were, at least they were actually questions.
The Sadducees had the opportunity of a lifetime with Jesus.” Because of hindsight, we know it was an opportunity of a lifetime, but if we were there we would probably have missed that fact, too. “This group studied scripture most rigorously. They thought about and pondered God day and night. They dealt with life’s big questions. So, here is Jesus, perfectly willing to talk about the meaning of scripture. Here is Jesus, eager to shed light on the will of God. Rather than understand this as an opportunity of a lifetime they came up to Jesus and told him this big, long hypothetical story: an elaborate and drawn-out set-up. And then for the punch line, they asked a question. Only it really wasn’t a question. You ask a question if you want to learn something; a fact perhaps, or someone’s opinion, maybe to get some bit of wisdom or insight. The Sadducees don’t want to learn from Jesus, but thought they were clever at setting a trap for him.”(sermons.com) Questioning – we all know questions are vital to learning and growing in understanding of a topic or of the meaning of life as well as death. Questions help us try to make sense of the world around us. I remember how often I would get frustrated with the number of questions my young son would come up with in a day. Why? was an all too frequent question. OMG! These were really interesting and thoughtful questions that I just did not always have an answer to or the time for. Some responses included: “I don’t know.” or “Just because.” – or: “go ask your father.” These questions were not trick questions, but honest questions of a child’s bemusement in the world. Real questions lead to read riches in our lives.
Salisha Nest wrote: “I was 7 years old when my grandfather died. That was the first time in my short life that I had come into contact with death. The questions came swirling in – what does death mean? Where did my grandfather go? His body’s still here, so why wasn’t he? What’s it like ‘up there’ without a body? Where is ‘up there?’ These were big questions for a small mind.
Over the years, I read a lot, wrote in my journal a lot – asked questions a lot. Is God real? Why do bad things happen to good people? Am I fated to a certain destiny or do I truly have free will to make my own choices in life?”
Salisah Nest continues: “Strangely enough, I still don’t have solid answer for any of those questions, but what I’ve realized is that as I grow older, and as I’m hopefully getting wiser, my answers seem to change and get wiser too; I’m realizing that it’s more important to ask a question than to rush to answer it.”
She then went on to make a list of 36 quotes from successful people about the wisdom of asking questions. Here are a few. French Philosopher and theologian Peter Abelard said: “The key to wisdom is this – constant and frequent questioning, for by doubting we are led to question, by questioning we arrive at the truth.”
Author and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel said: “I questioned God’s silence. I don’t have an answer for that. Does it mean that I stopped having faith? No, I have faith, but I question it.”
American Marine Biologist and author Sylvia Earle said: “The best scientists and explorers have the attributes of kids! They ask questions and have a sense of wonder. They have curiosity. ‘Who, what, where, why, when and how!’ They never stop asking questions, and I never stop asking questions, just like a five year old.” This quote made me think of Jesus telling his disciples to not send the children away, but to bring them to him. I would love to have heard their unpretentious and real questions and I would have loved to hear Jesus’ answers that I might be able to understand at my present age.
Finally, Shalisah Nest’s favorite quote is from poet Rainer Maria Rilke who said: “Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far into the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.” (Salisha Nest, Lifehack.org) I love that, “Live the questions now.”
Joel Kline wrote: “A few years back I was asked to write a meditation for the back of one of our Sunday bulletin covers, and I was excited about the prospect until I took a closer look at the assigned text. It was today’s text, whose message I continue to find difficult to distill into a few short paragraphs. But in the weeks prior I had come across one of Yogi Berra’s picturesque sayings. Yogi Berra, you may remember, was the New York Yankees catcher back in the 1950’s and ’60’s who in his own garbled way said some profound things, once asserting that ‘the main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.’
In effect, is this not what Jesus is saying to his critics? In the life of faith, keep focused on the main thing. And what is the main thing, but to maintain and nurture our rootedness in God, to embrace life in God’s kingdom, a life of compassion and grace, of peace and self-giving love, of servanthood and hope. When Jesus speaks of the God of the living, he is prodding his critics to expand their vision. In effect, says William Willimon, Jesus is saying to that group of critical Sadducees, ‘Your questions betray your limited point of view, your narrow frame of reference. The resurrection is not just some extension of your world. It is a whole new world, the world as God intended the world to be.’ It is a world in which the woman of your story is ‘a child of God, not a piece of property.’ It is a world in which each of us lives as children of the resurrection.” (Joel D. Kline, Life in the Real World; sermons.com) Yep! “The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.”
From a recent Facebook posting I came across the following: “Heard awhile back of a young mother describing an ordinary day in the park with her 4 year old son, who only had a few months to live because of a nasty cancer. They were in front of a quiet pond, taking in the sights and sounds, as she desperately tried to capture every precious moment.
She turned, and asked him where he would want to go if he could be anywhere or do anything in the whole wide world.
Pause. ‘This,’ he said softly.
He passed away a few weeks later. This – A lifetime of wisdom in that one word. It has sustained this mom, and many others.” (Facebook)
So yes, “The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.”
May God continue to bless us in our questioning and our living into the questions, in expanding our understanding of our limited point of view, and our narrow frame of reference. May we know with a certainty that God is with us in all life-changing moments and especially in THIS moment. Amen.