November 10, 2013

25th Sunday after Pentecost

Some Sadducees, those who say there is no resurrection, came to Jesus and asked him a question. Just before this, we learn that the chief priests, the scribes and the elders were questioning Jesus.

Usually it’s the Pharisees. But this time, it was the priestly class, the Sadducees. The Pharisees were interested in a piety that centered on fulfilling the law in every detail, and in a very public way. But they were not the only religious leaders in Jesus’ day.

The Sadducees were the most conservative of the professional clergy. They counted as scripture only the first five books of the Old Testament, the Law of Moses. So for the Sadducees, if it wasn’t in Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers or Deuteronomy, it wasn’t authoritative. In those books, they found no reference to the resurrection from the dead. So they did not believe in it.

They believed in the importance of living through one’s children. In fact, that was such a necessity that the Law of Moses had a rule for a man who dies without children. His brother must take his widow as a wife and have children for him! Without the hope of resurrection, children are everything, and so this rule was given.

Now, these Sadducees came to Jesus with a hypothetical story, "There were seven brothers, each of whom married the first brother’s widow, but none of them produced a child. In the resurrection (which they don’t believe in!), whose wife will she be?" Now they’ve got Jesus backed into a corner. He will either have to side with the Pharisees, who do believe in the resurrection, or with them. There will be winners and losers, and they are betting that he will not side with the Pharisees, over against them and Moses. Who would question Moses?

But to their great surprise, Jesus answered their question in a way, that their mouths were shut and they dared not ask him any more questions. "Let’s look at Moses," Jesus said, "he writes that the Lord is God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Now he is God not of the dead, but of the living; for to him all of them are alive."

Do you see what Jesus did? He turned the loose and vague hypothetical question into a personal one. Forget about some made-up story involving seven brothers. What about the founders of our faith, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob? Let’s talk about something that is real, something that makes a difference in our lives, not questions about "what-if."

The Lord is God not of the dead, but of the living. So what does it mean that God is the God of the living? Jesus is saying that those who are willing to give their lives to God in this life will be with God in death. What we will discover is beyond our wildest imaginations, but it will be life as God created it to be, and all our wondering about it, our conjectures, won’t matter. It all comes down to trusting God now, in this life.


Karl Barth, the great 20th Century theologian, once said: “The Bible gives to every [person] and to every era answers to their questions as they deserve. We shall always find in it as much as we seek and no more.” Do we use our questions to keep Jesus at arms’ length? Are we afraid of encountering the living Christ because we misunderstand his love for us?

It’s clear in the gospels that Jesus has no time for those who merely want to play games. He has no patience with those who merely want to use him to prove how smart or righteous or perfect they are. Usually, those who waste his time don’t come off very well--indeed, after this exchange, Luke writes, “They no longer dared to ask him another question.”

However, Jesus always has time for questions that are real. He always has time for those who want to know him. Because the questions deep in our hearts are what lead us to be in relationship with him.

Jesus always has time for questions like:

• Can you heal my child? 
• I can find no rest. Can you help me? 
• I have lost my way; Can you bring me back? 
• No one will come near me--because they say I am unclean. Will you love someone like me?

When people offer these questions to Jesus, the answer he gives is not a slogan or a sound bite. The answer he gives is himself. When the Sadducees or the Pharisees ask Jesus their trick questions, they usually get parables: stories that will puzzle their minds and invite them to look at the world in a new way. But when people bring Jesus their deepest yearnings, he doesn’t talk at them; he engages them. When people come to him with genuine questions, he often doesn’t say much, but he touches, he encounters, he relates, he forgives. He invites people to journey with him on the Way.

The Latin root of the word “question” means “to seek.” It’s where we get the word “quest.” To ask a real question is to enter into a journey; it’s to begin traveling on The Way. Jesus gets exasperated with the Sadducees because they aren’t willing to be authentic. They just want to play games and maintain their position of power.

An aspiring poet from America wrote the famous poet Rilke in Germany with questions about his art. In one of his replies, Rilke writes, “Love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language….Live the questions now. Perhaps then someday far in the future, you will your way into the answer.”

Our deepest questions don’t have simple answers. Instead they are doors to walk through. Jesus says, “I am the Way” because with him and through him we live our way into answers.

So let us take heart. Today is the day Jesus has come to the city; today is the day Jesus has come to our town. The time is short, but it is our time. Time to bring our deepest questions to Him--the questions for which we want a real answer: 

• Does God love me? 
• Am I all alone? 
• Can I find peace with God and my family?

The Sadducees cannot ask these questions because they think they already know the answers. Real questions are doorways to a journey to a new relationship with Jesus. We ask these questions because Jesus is the door to new life; he is the way. He invites us to think of a new world: a world where new life is possible. He invites the Sadducees and us to lay aside our self-reinforcing questions and think of a new world in which God is the God of the living not the dead. Let us join him in this new life.