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 he is God not of the dead, but of the living; for to him all of them are alive.”
Finally, the elections are over and honestly, I am glad. The negative television commercials, the character assassinations, and the personal attacks from both sides of the political debate, were beginning to wear on me. Some candidates won, others lost, but it’s all over; well, at least for now. Fiery disagreements over particular issues have always been, and will always be, a part of our human nature. It shouldn’t surprise us that in today’s gospel reading, we learn of a debate over ideologies that took place between Jesus and a group called the Sadducees. Throughout his ministry, Jesus faced the attacks of another group called the Pharisees, but he repelled them with great parables, which clearly refuted their accusations and established his authority.
The Sadducees however, were a priestly group, leaders in the temple. They were very different from the Pharisees, but they had a common enemy; Jesus. The Pharisees and Sadducees differed on many levels. When it came to the Law of Moses, the Sadducees followed it alone and no more; they were literalists. The Pharisees followed the Law along with other ceremonial regulations, but their interpretive method was quite a bit less rigid and open to interpretation. The Sadducees believed in unrestricted free will, the Pharisees believed in “Fate” and a life, ordered by God. The Pharisees believed in the resurrection but the Sadducees did not. The debate of the reality of resurrection was brought to Jesus, through a riddle concerning a cultural system known as leverite marriage.
Leverite marriage, was a common practice in ancient cultures by which a widow was given to her husband’s brother at his death. Unlike marriages today, it’s purpose had nothing to do with love or joy shared between two people, its purpose was to insure the procreation of an heir, to perpetuate the estate of a male patriarch. The Sadducees question regarding leverite marriage was placed in the context of resurrection, which was absurd because they really didn’t in believe in the resurrection at all; they were merely trying to trap Jesus. The idea that one widow’s actions of effectively having been married to seven men in this life, could somehow have any meaning in the resurrection was really ridiculous. According to Jesus, marriage was not something of importance in the age of the resurrection. Jesus made it clear that in that age, none will be given in marriage. However, this didn’t convince them, because the Sadducees could not imagine God acting to restore to new life, those who had died.
The concept was something so distant from their imagination, that they could not even comprehend it, let alone believe it. They could not accept the hope of God’s ultimate redemption, which Jesus came to institute in his death and resurrection. By legal babble and technical precision, the Sadducees sought to subvert Jesus’ministry, but with plainspoken savvy, Jesus refuted their argument and turned the situation upside down.
Dealing with Faith and Hope is not always logical, precise, and systematic like the Sadducees would have liked. Wonder over resurrection is something with which the Church has engaged for centuries. On one level, resurrection proclaims the exalted status of Jesus of Nazareth as the anointed one of God and by his overcoming the sting of death His humanity and divinity is affirmed. On another level, the death and resurrection of Christ affirms the direct action of God, to bring about the ultimate victory over death; the destruction of the allied forces associated with the powers of evil and sin. On another level, resurrection is the foundation and substance of our Christian hope in which, we live in the anticipation of being raised to new life with God.
Karl Barth (a modern theologian) asserts that by their faith in the resurrection, Paul and the other Apostles were proclaiming that resurrection calls for a “decision of faith.” Our Christian hope is about our decision to live our lives based on Christ’s promise to be with us, and that promise is so sure, that we live in confidence that we will not be abandoned to the grave. This hope emerged and became effective by God’s action, when he raised from death, Our Lord Jesus Christ.
We cannot in this present age, fully know what resurrection is going to be like, but we can know that in the resurrection, all that is temporal (political, physical, spiritual, cultural, and religious) will be transformed. Paul tried to give some explanation when he wrote to the Corinthian church, “But someone will ask, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body will they come?” Paul responded, “How foolish! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies.” So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power.” Paul recognized that physical death is a part of life, but in Christ, death is certainly not the end. Paul explained, “The last enemy to be destroyed is death.” Resurrection is our hope that God will not abandon us and we will be transformed both body and spirit; our entire person will be transformed.
Regarding the Apostle Paul’s teaching, Paul Tillich, a 20th century theologian explained that resurrection does not come through God making a new creation in which the old is lost, it happens by God bringing about a new way of being. Tillich explained, a “new Being emerges not as another being, but the transformation of the old being. Not creation of another reality against the old reality but a transformation of the old reality arising out of its death.” (Systematic Theology Vol III, Paul Tillich p. 414) Our Christian hope is that God will transform our old reality, a transition in death, to a new reality fulfilled by a New Life in God’s presence.
In this new life, God will bring us from darkness to light, from the old self to the new self, from the sting of death to the fulfillment of God’s promise. Resurrection will be the final victory of God over death, injustice, inequity, pain and tears, and that victory has already begun in Christ. In the Body of Christ, evidence of that victory happens every day of our lives. God will act in fulfillment in the future, but God also acts now, transforming our old way of being into our new way of being in Christ.
Look around you at the people gathered here today. All are people transformed by and transforming in the Holy Spirit. We all stand as witnesses to God’s redemptive work in the world. The saints throughout the ages are witnesses to God’s work of redemption. Consider for a moment the journey of the Apostle Peter who as hard as he tried, never seemed to get it right. When in the upper room, Jesus revealed to the disciples his impending passion, Peter wouldn’t believe it and openly rebuked Jesus’ revelation. What happened? Jesus called Peter, Satan, but this was not the end of the story. Peter, the Rock, denied Jesus three times at the trial, but this too was not the end of the story. God was doing a great work in his life despite his failures. God was restoring him, transforming him, and after Jesus’ resurrection, by God’s Spirit working in his life, Peter worked with amazing grace to bring about God’s Kingdom, even converting 3000 in one day.
Peter the great Apostle received God’s grace in his life and so do we. Daily, we witness God’s work at restoring each us, reconciling each of us, and drawing each of us unto Himself. God draws us out of our comfort zones, our complacency, our sin, and transforms us each and every day. God’s redemptive work is ongoing.
Our hope in God’s transforming power in our lives, our hope that we will be raised from death to life, is evident each day of our lives. We live in the hope of the resurrection, because God is actively transforming us today. It is that hope that sustains us. It is that hope that sends us out into the world, to witness to God’s grace in our lives: yesterday, today, tomorrow, and in the life with God, which is to come.