"Remember, in a couple of days, 'resurrection' is going to be a life and death question for Jesus - not merely an interesting question for discussion and debate. If your life depended on it, what would you say about resurrection?"
Season of Pentecost
Sunday Between November 6 and November 12 Inclusive
Proper 27, Ordinary Time 32
November 7, 2010, 24th Sunday After Pentecost
Click here, Luke 20:27-38, for an easy to print or email Adobe PDF version of this note.
Sermon by the Rev. Dr. George Hermanson, "to be added."
It is important to remember the context of this passage: Jesus has entered Jerusalem (Luke 19:28-40) and a series of confrontations with the authorities begins. He has less than a week to live before he will be falsely charged, secretly arrested by night, tortured, and then brutally executed.
Just before the passage we are reading now, Jesus told a parable of wicked tenants (Luke 20:9-19), and following this Luke had commented:
So (the authorities) watched (Jesus) and sent spies who pretended to be honest, in order to trap him by what he said, so as to hand him over to the jurisdiction and authority of the governor (Pontius Pilate).
Luke 20:20 (NRSV)
This passage is intended to be one of those traps. The question asked by the Sadducees is NOT an honest, "good faith," question; it is an exaggerated "mind game" intended to trap Jesus. Luke makes this clear by noting that the Sadducees "say there is no resurrection," and yet the question they ask is about what happens in the resurrection!
Verse 28. "Moses wrote for us ..." (See Deuteronomy 25:5-10.) In a culture where identity comes through the father; and where provision for old age and preservation of name, honour, and possessions for future generations is through the son; it was crucial for a man not to die without first having sired a son. And so Moses wrote that if such a disaster did happen, the dead man’s brother should marry the widow and the first son born would carry the name of the deceased brother.
It is this teaching that the Sadducees use to pose their mocking question about seven brothers: In the resurrection, whose wife will the woman be?
The concept of resurrection is not well developed in the Bible. In fact, it was hotly debated in Jesus' time. The Scribes and Pharisees supported the idea; the Sadducees denied it.
Jesus' response supports the idea of resurrection, but corrects the absurd - and mocking - question of the Sadducees.
Verses 37-38. Notice that Jesus now quotes Moses - as the Sadducees had done to pose their question - to refute the Sadducees’ position that there is no resurrection. This is a public demonstration of Jesus' knowledge, skill, and wisdom as a debater.
Verses 39-40. Although these verses are not included in the assigned reading from the Lectionary - they should be. Because they make the point that once again Jesus has bested his opponents in public debate, and increased his public honour.
And irony of ironies, because Jesus has so thoroughly silenced and shamed the Sadducees on the question of the resurrection, it is some of the Scribes who publicly declare Jesus the winner!
Presumably these are the same Scribes who also tried to trap Jesus with a trick question about paying taxes just before the Sadducees asked their question. (See Luke 20:21-26.)
And presumably these same Scribes were the ones who were also silenced by Jesus.
But these same Scribes also oppose the Sadducees who say there is no resurrection. And so on this issue, the Scribes are on side with Jesus, and are able to publicly ascribe honour to Jesus for his rebuttal of the Sadducees. (Turns out even then life was complicated and it was impossible to draw neat, impermeable boundaries between different groups of people.)
It is probably best not to try and describe too concretely what resurrection is. Personally, I've always thought that if there is no sex in heaven, I'm not going. (Just kidding. Sort of.)
However, every preacher had better be aware that there will be some in the congregation who have themselves been married more than once, and this will be a pressing question for them. And don’t assume that everyone present is looking forward to the possibility of meeting a deceased spouse in the life to come.
But every preacher had better have a good explanation of what Jesus could possibly have meant when he said, "Though we die, yet shall we live."
And remember, in a couple of days, "resurrection" is going to be a life and death question for Jesus - not merely an interesting question for discussion and debate.
If your life depended on it, what would you say about resurrection?
It helps if you can imagine that there is more to life than the eye can see.
Note: Historical background information is primarily from Bruce Malina, et. al. (see link below), pages 309-310.
* Link to Amazon.com Bibliography for Bruce Malina, et. al., Social Science Commentary on ... The Synoptic Gospels; The Gospel of John; The Book of Acts; The Letters of Paul; The Book of Revelation; and others.
Permission is granted for non-profit use of these materials.
Acknowledgement in oral presentations is not required.
Otherwise, please acknowledge source as, "David Ewart, www.holytextures.com."