November 10, 2019
The Twenty-First Sunday after Trinity
(2 Thessalonians 2:13 – 3:5; Luke 20:27-38)
We are being bombarded in the media about the happenings in the White House. A constant back and forth of allegations, resignations, firings, quid pro quo’s, harassments, lies, fake news, denials, cover-ups, threats, and ad nauseam. Depending upon one’s point of view, party affiliation and a plethora of any number of things, we are challenged to find the truth. Of course, we are mostly challenge to either believe the current person in the oval office is either a lunatic, or merely a victim. Are the Democrats correct, or are the Republicans? It appears the country is divided and most of you already know my opinion.
Our modern situation isn’t really a lot different than what has been experienced since the creation of the world. In fact, we see in today’s Gospel reading, it can take place in many forms and topics. In the time of Jesus, there were a variation of Democrats and Republicans – in the religious world that is – the Sadducees and the Pharisees.
The Sadducees and Pharisees were the major sects in Judaism at the time of Jesus. We know that Jesus grew up in the ways and teachings of the Pharisees, so he is very familiar with the sect from the inside, much like one who works in the administration of the White House.
In Luke’s Gospel we’ve heard a lot about the Pharisees and most of it hasn’t been positive. They accuse Jesus of blasphemy, complain when he eats with sinners, and reproach him for breaking the law when he heals on the Sabbath. Jesus in turn paints the Pharisees as hypocrites and lovers of money. By contrast we read about the Sadducees only once. With this inequality of attention, it may come as a surprise that the Pharisees enjoyed the support of the common people, like fishermen and townspeople that Jesus spent most of his time with, while the aristocratic Sadducees weren’t popular.
The Sadducees don’t seem to take any notice of Jesus until the very end of his life when he is in Jerusalem where they are. They begin to worry that he will start a revolt against their own authority and against the Roman Empire. In the Gospel passage today, the Sadducees aren’t concerned about implications of marriage and the resurrection. Nope, that is all fake news! Their intent is to undermine Jesus’ message. They want to expose the improbably absurd notion of life after death.
The Sadducees pose a ridiculous scenario to Jesus in the hopes to trip him up. But Jesus cuts through the heart of the question about the resurrection of the dead. Do we really believe that God has authority over life and earth and the ability to bring life from death? Jesus is about to live his certainty in the resurrection by submitting to death. He knows, as he tells the Sadducees, that God is the God of the living – there is no death in him.
Theological sophistication is on display today when Jesus responds to the derogatory trick question about resurrection. While Jesus is in the Jerusalem temple after making his lengthy journey, he faces a question from a powerful party of religious leaders. The Sadducees did not accept resurrection, as they focused squarely on Mosaic Law, the first five books of the Bible. And in those books the word resurrection is not mentioned. Instead, it is a term more closely associated with the book of Daniel or even 2 Maccabees, which are not accepted by the Sadducees as authoritative.
So, the question the Sadducees pose to Jesus is meant to illustrate how ridiculous the concept of resurrection is. This is reminder that not all Jews of Jesus’ day had similar beliefs. There were differences in understanding and applying the Jewish faith, much as there are differences among Jews today – and apparently, Democrats and Republicans. For that matter there are differences among the different Catholic churches, and then again between Catholic and Protestant churches and Christians in general.
But the question allows Jesus the chance to correct their misunderstanding, using Mosaic Law, something they would have accepted as authoritative. Jesus’ words indicate there is no marriage in the afterlife, thereby undercutting the foundation of their question. His answer wasn’t meant to say that if your spouse dies and goes on to heaven and then you also die and go to heaven that your spouse will not longer want you or love you, because surely, they will. This answer wasn’t meant to touch on that, but on resurrection itself.
Jesus’ response was dealing with resurrection - that resurrection was not for all, but only for those deemed worthy. This reflects a common understanding at that time by those who believed in resurrection. They held that only the just were raised as a reward for their right conduct. In later centuries Christians wondered if the unjust would be raised also, if only to be punished eternally. But that is not the question that Jesus faced. For him, the question was a literal understanding of resurrection to such a degree that it involved marriage in the afterlife. Jesus continues his counterargument by citing Mosaic Law and the words of Moses, who spoke of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and all of whom died centuries before Moses.
As God is the God of the living, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob must be alive. This is a clever twist on a familiar passage, and it demonstrates the theological sophistication of this Jew from the backwaters of Galilee. He was in Jerusalem now, arguing with the learned in the Temple. His audience was most likely growing, and after this encounter so too was the opposition he faced.
Jesus is not alone in believing in the resurrection of the dead. In 2 Maccabees 7 we hear the martyrdom of a mother and her seven sons. Rather than profane their ancestral beliefs, the brothers willingly submit to execution, each first stating complete trust that “the King of the world will raise us up to live again forever.” The question of resurrection is one that divided the two main Jewish religious groups of Jesus’ day, hence why the Sadducees asked him the question, knowing that his upbringing was Pharisaic. In his preaching and teaching Jesus seems to offer a challenge and an invitation to everyone he meets. He calls the tax collectors to repentance, the self-righteous to humility, and the complacent to continue to delve into the mystery of God.
Today’s Gospel is one of the few stories where we hear Jesus’ thoughts on the question of resurrection. Of course, one of the reasons it’s so interesting is that we know he will experience resurrection after a humiliating public death less than a week later. Though resurrection is a central element of the Christian faith, it continues to be debated through the centuries. Even St. Paul had issues with preaching the resurrection, as the longest chapter in any of his letters – 1 Corinthians 15 – deals entirely with the topic, while some of the pastoral letters indicate that other Christians continued to misunderstand resurrection. The Apostolic Fathers also address the issue, as do many others in every century including our own.
So, even as we struggle to grasp what is the truth in our day, we usually can all agree that we are Americans, even if we hold different political views. In the end, we choices to make – to choose truth or to choose fake. Throughout his ministry Jesus calls people away from boxes in which they have placed God. He preaches and reveals a God beyond human comprehension. In the Sadducees and the Pharisees, Jesus is talking to the religious people of his day, the ones who faithfully visited the Temple and studied in the synagogue. The ones that felt they had the most claim on Judaism of the time. There is a lesson here for us also. Like the Sadducees do we try to control God, or to claim that we understand who God is and what God can do? If so, Jesus tells us, “Look again.” This is called faith!
Let us pray.
In today’s gospel Jesus confirms that although the body may die, we ourselves are children of the resurrection, who become as angels, sons and daughters of our God. We pray that we never lose sight of our ultimate destination and the promise of eternal life in the glorious presence of the Father who loves us with an everlasting love. We pray to the Lord.
In this month of November, we remember our dead in a very special way. Let us today celebrate the lives of our beloved ones and members of our community who have departed this life and pray that they may enjoy the blessings of God’s compassion and love eternally. We pray to the Lord.
We pray for all those who have recently lost loved ones and are in mourning. We pray that they may find real hope and consolation in Christ’s promise of everlasting life and in that the spirit of their loved one is ever present in their lives. We pray to the Lord.
We pray for those who are sick and unwell, particularly those with cancer and for those currently undergoing treatment. We pray for their recovery and that in their darkest moments the care of friends and neighbors may bring them hope and peace. We pray to the Lord.
That those elected to political office will serve their people with honesty, and in their policies show care for those deprived of justice. We pray to the Lord.
That the rectory be completed quickly, under budget, with honestly, integrity and according to plan. We pray to the Lord.
For all veterans, that they may know God’s presence in their hearts, be healed of trauma and painful memories, and be blessed with health and well-being. We pray to the Lord.
For the grace of sacrificial love, that we may be open to all the ways God calls us to lay down our lives in witness to the truth and in loving service of others. We pray to the Lord.
For those on our parish prayer list, that they may find consolation through Christ’s healing presence. We pray to the Lord.
We bow our heads and remember in silence our own personal intentions and the intentions of those who have asked for our prayers (pause). We pray to the Lord.
Father help us to show our love of thee by serving you and loving others with generous hearts and willing hands. Loving God, your Son taught us that you are God of the living and that for you, all are alive. Trusting in that hope, we ask you to care for all those who have died and listen to these prayers. God of everlasting life keep us hopeful in what lies beyond, while we struggle to live life fully each and every day. Help us to be people of faith and hope, who encourage those who have lost hope. We ask this through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
God Love You +++
++ The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor – St. Francis Chapel
San Diego, CA