“Are There Any Stupid Questions?” Luke 20:27-38

Resurrection“There
are no stupid questions!”  I’m not
so sure.  This Sadducee question to Jesus
about the resurrection and this poor woman whose husbands keep kicking the
bucket seems close.  It is the first of
many in Christian history.  What happens
if you lose a leg in battle?  Will you
get it back in the resurrection or will you have a peg leg?  What if humans on earth invent the prosthetic
leg, do you then get an upgrade in heaven, or did they already have them in the
first place?  What if a shark eats your
leg, ingests your molecules, then someone else catches the shark and eats it,
thus ingesting your molecules, who gets these molecules if there is a bodily
resurrection?  What will I look like in
heaven?  Do I get the 25 year-old me, or
the body I died with?  Can I chose?  The mind can really start to wander as you
ponder the implications of the Sadducees question.  After all, I’m divorced and I bet many of you
are too.  What if you are widowed and
marry twice and you dearly loved both your husbands or wives?  Is heaven going to be socially awkward?  I hope not.

 

The more I
think about it, the more I want to hear Jesus answer.  Of course, the Sadducees didn’t really want
an answer, it is a question designed to make the whole idea of resurrection
look stupid.  The idea of bodily
resurrection was already controversial in Jesus day.   We have been discussing Jesus’s
controversies with Pharisees the last few weeks, but Jesus did agree with them
about a bodily resurrection.  This was a
relatively new idea to Judaism, just a couple centuries old, and probably
imported from elsewhere, and the Sadducees were defending tradition and having
none of it.  Sadducees only accepted the
first five books of the Old Testament (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy.)  Anything not in the books of Moses, is not
scripture to them.  It is interesting
that Christianity became almost entirely about heaven and immortality.  We have gone Greek and adopted the notion of
the immortality of the soul, but the idea of bodily resurrection is reserved
for Jesus, not for the rest of us.  The
early church taught the bodily resurrection for all of us, at the end times, so
I just want to note that we have departed from the Apostles Creed and Nicene
creed that proclaim a bodily resurrection.

 

I’m eager, in my anxiety about death and the afterlife to move to what Jesus has to
say, but one little detail brought me up short in the text.  The Sadducees say that this woman is
childless.  Why would that be
important?  Isn’t it enough she has been
married to these seven brothers?  After
all, being childless in that culture was seen as being cursed by God.  The Sadducees are referring to practice
mentioned in Deuteronomy, known as levirate marriage.  If a man died and his wife had no children,
then the brother was to marry her to preserve the family name.  You heard right, not to protect her but to
preserve the family name, hoping she would get pregnant and give birth to a son.  The son would then be considered a descendent
of the dead husband, and inherit the family name and property.  While the Sadducees may have been trying to
show the absurdity of the bodily resurrection, their treatment of this
fictional woman is the absurdity.  She is
barren through seven brothers?  That is
just cold.  And then in heaven the great
dilemma would be to figure out which of these brothers is her husband?  The Sadducees are asking Jesus whose property
she is going to be.  Which brother will
she serve in heaven?  Family hierarchy is
everything in that world.  Who your
father is and your birth order defines you as a man, and who your husband is
defines you as a woman.  Is all this
human hierarchy to be preserved in heaven?
All the screwed up gender relations and injustices persist in eternity?  You mean there is no equal opportunity act in
heaven, no Title IX?  Women still have to
play half-court basketball?  Will we
still a GLBTQ coalition in heaven?

 

Get us
out of this mess Jesus.  Tell us what the
resurrection will be like:

“Those who belong to this age marry and are given in
marriage; 35but 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. 36Indeed
they cannot die anymore, because they are like angels and are children of God,
being children of the resurrection.

 

Imagine the look on the faces of Jesus
audience when he tells them that this theoretical woman, so humiliated and
worthless and passed around in this life, will not belong to any of these men
in heaven.  She will enter the next age
of the resurrection on her own power as her own person, because she is not
defined by these human institutions and relationships.  What is her identity in heaven?  She is a child of God.  She belongs to no one but God, and is raised
to be like an angel, not childless servant to one of seven brothers, but a
beloved child of God.  Let’s take this
one step further, and think of the beginning of the Lord’s Prayer –“thy Kingdom
come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”  If heavenly relations are to define earthly
ones, what does this mean for marriage on earth?  Could it be that there are bigger theological
issues regarding the resurrection than if our bodies are raised?  Jesus is saying that we are raised with God
in the resurrection, but our flawed human institutions are not coming with us.

 

For so long the church thought gay
couples were a threat to marriage, but it is Jesus who is the real marriage
radical.  Same sex couples who want to
marry and raise children are traditionalists, buying into the worldly institution
of marriage, when Jesus says marriage will not exist in heaven.  (And according to the June issue of Atlantic
Monthly, same sex marriages are changing heterosexual marriages – for the
better!  Countries that have had legal
same sex marriages for more than 10 years are showing an increase in
heterosexual couples marrying, lower divorce rates and great marriage
satisfaction for heterosexual couples.
Why?  The article believes it is
because same sex marriage forces the issue on equality.  If a gay or lesbian couple has a power struggle, the issue is not going to be
decided by society’s gender roles.)  http://www.theatlantic.com/special-report/inside-marriage

 

So while we battle state by state to
approve same sex marriage, Jesus is telling the Sadducees that marriage is just
how we have organized human and family relationships here on earth, but in
heaven it is going to be completely different.
Could it be that in heaven marriage will not be a sacred institution?  Not for either gay or straight?
Unthinkable!

 

Where did Jesus get such a radical
notion?  It could be that Jesus just read
the Bible and observed how marriage changed in scriptures, with polygamous patriarchs
and kings having wives and concubines.  One man and one woman mating for life is a
later development, something we probably learned from geese, and someone
decided that was very romantic.   Perhaps Jesus read stories about Abraham, who
tried to pass off his wife as his sister to get favor with Pharaoh, or Hagar,
his maid, being impregnated by Abraham only to be caste out when his wife Sarah
became pregnant.  If we made a movie
about this marriage, Abraham would be portrayed by Jack Nicholson.

 

So Jesus, reading the scriptures, could
see marriage was an evolving human institution.
Just as political organization changes in the Bible from tribal clans in
Genesis and Exodus, to monarchy in Samuel and Kings, and- just three centuries
before Jesus- Athens tried the first experiments in democracy.  The idea of equality was in its infancy in
Jesus day.  So too marriage as a human
institution went through changes between Genesis and Jesus, and marriage has
continued to evolved even since I was born.
It has taken 2300 years for Athenian democracy work its way into modern
marriage.

 

This is not exactly where I
expected to end up when reflecting on the Sadducees trick question.  I stand behind my opening statement that
there are no stupid questions.  But chose
your questions to Jesus wisely.  When we
ask only to justify our previous beliefs, we will probably be confounded and
discover the limits of our point of view.
But at least we have the hope of discovering what we learned about this
hypothetical woman – that you are also a child of God.  That is where all God’s answers begin.  Human institutions and injustices try to tell
us differently.  But the point of the
resurrection I hear in Jesus’s words is that we are beloved and the age is upon
us when all is being made new.

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