November 10, 2019 Onboard the MS Koningsdam
2 Maccabees 7, 1-2 & 9-14 + Psalm 17 + 2 Thessalonians 2, 16 – 3, 5
Luke 20, 27-38
Since June, we have been going along with Jesus as he makes his way to Jerusalem. Last week was the last stop just outside of town at the city of Jericho where he met Zacchaeus. We have skipped over the great entry into Jerusalem. He has already had his confrontation with the merchants there and a serious confrontation with the Pharisees and every other authority possible. Things are coming together, and his fate is now unavoidable. Luke structures this part of his Gospel around a series of questions posed by different groups. We have skipped over the first two, but it might help to mention them.
The first question came from the chief priests, elders, and scribes. The very group who instigate the Romans to put Jesus to death. They wanted to know by what authority Jesus acts as he does.
The second question came from secret agents disguised as what Luke calls, “Honest Men.” Their question concerns whether or not it is lawful to pay taxes to the Roman Emperor.
The third question comes up today.
There is a fourth and final question coming later with the same group concerning the title, “Lord.” At this point, Jesus warns the people to beware of the hypocrisy found in their leaders.
Now, it is the third question that comes up in today’s Gospel. Again, the Sadducees are the questioners, and they do not believe in the resurrection of the dead or any kind of judgement after death. It was a disputed matter between scholars at the time, and Jesus sides with the Pharisees on this issue. infuriating the Sadducees who consider themselves to be the protectors of ancient tradition and the status quo. They want no change, especially one that might challenge their aristocratic and very secure way of life cooperating with the Romans. They could smell danger to their status around Jesus and the company he kept, so they are determined to show that he is either crazy, irrelevant, or disobedient to the Mosaic teaching and traditions. The question they raise comes from the Mosaic law which taught that if one married brother dies without a son to carry on the name, his brother must marry the widow. The first son of this marriage will bear the name of the dead brother. While strange to us, the purpose was to strengthen family bonds and care for the widow. The Sadducees push the idea through the six brothers in a silly and exaggerated way thinking that the question could only be considered by those who are stupid enough to believe in such a resurrection.
Jesus refuses to play the game of trivial biblical pursuit. His answer challenges any belief that the next life will be a continuation of this life. It is a completely new mode of existence, he says. Quoting their cherished writings of the Mosaic law, Jesus reminds them that God spoke to Moses about Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the present tense, as still being alive before him and not as long-dead memories. God is not a God of the dead, but of the living. All of this is Luke’s final way of leading us into the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus. We get a hint at how Jesus had the courage and the confidence to risk his death. He believed in the resurrection. It prepared him to accept his death, even though the suffering that led to it might have been frightening.
All of this seems a bit morose riding along on this beautiful ship in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, but I would suggest to you that thinking about death from time to time can result in a true love of life. When we are familiar with death, we accept each day as a gift, and this day is one of them. In a few moments we shall say together: “We look forward to the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come.” Belief in another life after this one is one of the most important or our beliefs as Christians. Without it, life would be a journey to nowhere. With it, life becomes a journey to the promised land of eternal life.