Upon Further Review
2007-11-07 by Tom Steagald
The easy observation is, of course, that the Sadduccees have come to bait and trap Jesus... certainly the earlier attempts by others to ask questions of authority and taxes were attempts to tangle Jesus with his own words. But in this text there is no mention of duplicity or a hidden agenda. The Sadduccees just ask a question.
The question feels "stock," but let us not be too hasty to conclude they are merely rendering the issue absurd. This is precisely the kind of case study that some minds are so fond of exploring. Besides, is it mere rhetoric when Pilate asks, "What is truth?" Perhaps he is trying to trap Jesus, or dismiss what Pilate might have seen as idealism...Or does he, as Buechner so famously reflected, really want to know? Is there truth? Given the cynicism that surely infects life-long government officials, Pilate may in fact want to know.
Is there resurrection? Could that be a real question even for those who are on record as not believing in such? Were the Sadduccees familiar enough with the reports of Jesus' ministry, impressed enough with Jesus' person, to ask that in legitimate terms? Jesus, you say there is a resurrection but our own tradition of levirate marriage would seem to say otherwise. How can you reconcile the two? How do you answer?
Is it a trap or a real question? If the former, well, no big surprise--the text is easily reduced to they say he says and we of course agree with him and disagree with them and what does that mean for us today? But perhaps the question is simply posed in such terms as to discount simplistic answers.
Maybe what I have read as cheek and condescension is, somewhere under the obvious, a real seriousness... as in, don't tell me God is good all the time and everywhere until you take serious account of the counter-argument.
And still, one is reminded of Anthony Flew's "death by a thousand qualifications." Perhaps they are rendering belief in the resurrection as absurd as they can. The tenor of the question feels like...what? Bemusement? Sarcasm? Ridicule? Jesus' answer seems to suggest how one can read Moses differently from Zadok's heirs...
The temptaions earlier in Luke culminate in the Temple (not on the mountain as in Matthew), and here near the end we are back at the Temple for more questions: authority, taxes, life after death...pretty basic stuff, the kind everyone talks about, even a Sadduccee. But here on the Sadduccees' home turf (Craddock) they take on even sharper significance--and all the more so if the Sadduccees, like other inquiring minds, may really want to know.
If the tenor of the Sadduccees questions is, well, whatever it is--however you read or hear it--what is interesting is that Jesus answers with respect and on his questioner's own terms. He treats the question as legitimate inquiry and an opportunity for doctrinal discussion--whether the question is real or not. He cites "their" scripture in his attempt to teach and correct, but he does not dismiss them (as I am so inclined, for instance, to dismiss and disregard the clean-cut young men on my front porch with the nametags and short sleeves and alternate scriptures; for sure I never engage in debate!). And in vs. 39 "some of the scribes" commend him. They no longer dare to ask him anything... but the reasons for that decision could well be complex.
David Mosser, Article Highlights, Blackberries
2007-11-06 by David von Schlichten
Fruitful is guest blogger David Mosser's entry below, in which he provides background that helps with understanding this week's text about the Sadducees' slippery questioning. Mosser also points out that Jesus is brilliant and reorienting as he outwits the Sadducees with a response that redirects us to what really matters, God's relationship with us and the eternal impact of that relationship.
Also take time to read Tom Steagald's wondering about what Jesus' facial expression might have been in response to the Sadducees' serpentine question.
Below are highlights from this week's articles in Lectionary Homiletics.
Seung Ai Yang provides an excellent, thought-provoking article, which you can read for free by clicking on the samples link under Share It! Note that this is a new location for the weekly samples.
Kristin Johnston Largen connects the gospel with some of the leitfmotifs of Karl Barth's dialectical theology, which stress that God is in charge in the world and in our relationship. We are not in charge of God. The Sadducees' questions arise from thinking on their terms, but it is God who defines reality. God will not fit into our frames and questions. God is God, not required to play by whatever rules we think God should play by.
Along these same lines, Steve Frazier succinctly states that the Sadducees' question was designed “to generate heat not light” (p.47). That phrase snagged me, and I wonder if it might be beneficial to preach a sermon on the tendency among us humans to ask questions and make statements that are meant to create trouble instead of to be helpful.
“Lesson and the Arts”
Terry Lindvall quotes Elizabeth Barrett Browning's piece Aurora Leigh:
Earth's crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God;
And only he who sees takes off his shoes;
The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries.
The Sadducees are doing a great deal of fruitless blackberry plucking, Lindvall indicates.
I don't know which way the Spirit is steering me, but I find intriguing the idea of exploring the motives behind questions.
I also can imagine parishioners wondering if, when they get to heaven, they will be reunited with their beloved spouse. Will I get to spend eternity with my wife?
Jesus' response to such a question would probably not be much comfort to many of us. What do you think?
Yours in Christ,
David von Schlichten, Lectionary Blog Moderator
2007-11-05 by Tom Steagald
I find myself trying to see the look on Jesus' face when the Sadducees ask their question, spin their riddle. By my count, this is the third time since the Entry and the Cleansing that he has had to answer questioners who are not at all interested in answers or even discussion (authority; taxes; resurrection). His questioners do not ask because they want to know; they ask because they already know, or think they do, and are setting a snare. Jesus discerns their intent, but I just wonder what he felt, what was the expression on his face, if he ever got tired of this kind of game.
I get questions, as I am sure all of us do, from people who are looking for something other than information or answers. Their questions are not so much interrogations as George Carlinesque queries (Can God make a rock so big even God can't pick it up?), footers for a constructed cynicism, rationalizations as to why this belief or that one, or even belief itself, is absurd (so, the woman was married to seven different guys...). I have trouble, sometimes, being patient with someone who is unashamedly sandbagging me or trying to make me look bad. If Jesus were more serene than I ever am in such a moment, it is because he is who he is and, as Father Mulcahey says, "a really good sport."
Anyone going to refer to Tobit in this sermon? What a GREAT story.
2007-11-05 by David Mosser
11 November 2007 (The Sunday between November 6 and 12 inclusive)
Haggai 1:15 b -2:9; Ps 145:1-5, 17-21; 2 Thessalonians 2:1-5, 13-17*Primary Text: Luke 20:27-38
Luke’s Gospel tells readers that Jesus taught in the temple daily. Luke further writes that the religious authorities “kept looking for a way to kill him, but they did not find anything they could do . . .” (Luke 19:47). Who exactly were the Sadducees? The Sadducees were a non-descript group of lay Jewish leaders associated with the temple. They maintained that only the first five books of our Christian Old Testament, the Pentateuch, were authoritative. Finding no mention of life after death in these books, they rejected the doctrine of the resurrection. No doubt they used a doctrine that they did note even believe in to trap Jesus in either a logical fallacy or a legal quagmire. The New Testament itself contains little information about Sadducees except that they frequently come into sight (with the Pharisees) as Jesus’ opponents. This is ironic in the sense that Sadducees and Pharisees have, generally speaking, little in common.Seeking to trap Jesus into speaking against the Jewish ritual law, the Sadducees ask Jesus a question about levirate marriage and a man’s several brothers with relation to the man’s widow. We need to recall the belief in first century Judaism as well as in many parts of the world today that a man’s memory and legacy lived on (in a sense) through his son(s) [For texts concerning “levirate marriage,” see Deuteronomy 25:5; Genesis 38:8.]. If a man died without sons, Jewish law required that his brother marry his widow and bear her a son, thus continuing the dead man’s lineage. Avoiding the theological trap set for him, Jesus tells those gathered that in the “coming age,” when the Messiah reigns, marriage will no longer exist; those who are admitted into eternal life for their faith will all be “children of God” (Luke 20:35). In God’s kingdom this will be their family relationship.
Many people today think that being a modern Christian includes discarding the belief in spiritual beings. Notice that the problem of the Sadducees is not with the why, that is with the reason for the belief in the resurrection, but with the how of things. Does this sound like the argument of modern people who reject the resurrection on the grounds that it is scientifically absurd? Our bodies, these scientific folks observe, are made up of the recycled atoms and molecules that were part of the bodies of people who once lived. At the resurrection, they ask, whose body parts would these atoms and molecules be, ours or theirs? [As they exclaim in Texas, “Do What?”]
Jesus answers the Sadducees by drawing their attention not to “the how” but to the why of the resurrection. God is God of the living. God has created people for life and not for ultimate extinction. God does not blow us into life like soap bubbles—here today gone tomorrow. Rather, God’s providence gives us life even after our earthly existence is finished. Resurrection is the cornerstone of the Christian faith.
Do we understand the details of the how of the resurrection? Of course not! As Paul wrote, “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Corinthians 2:9). But we do believe that the God who raised Jesus Christ from the dead will also give life to our mortal bodies because God cannot be God of the dead. God is God of the living. What Jesus promises is that at the time of death everything will be changed. Life as we know it will be altered completely. When we worry about who is married to whom and such questions like this then we are thinking completely beside the point. Jesus assures us that God at the end of time will take care of everything.
In fact, one might say that the Sadducees’ question is a way to avoid the responsibilities that God has given us for the here and now. Perhaps, if we worry about what happens in the next life we can dodge those troubling questions about what we are to do in this life—now! But for honest believers who want to do the right thing, dodging hard questions and dodging harder answers is never an option.
Jesus’ method of answering these evasive types of questions is to finally reveal how irrelevant they are, especially when we consider the many ways God calls us to serve others here and now!
David N. Mosser, First United Methodist Church, Arlington, Texas 76011
2007-11-05 by David Howell
David Mosser is our guest preaching blogger this week. David is senior pastor of the First United Methodist Church of Graham, Texas. He received his Ph.D. in rhetoric from the University of Texas, Austin. David writes UMPH-produced curriculum for adults. He is currently editor of The Abingdon Preaching Annual.
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