November 10, 2019
Sunday Between November 6 and November 12 Inclusive
Proper 27, Ordinary Time 32
Read the passage at the bottom of this post: Luke 20:27-38, The Message or Luke 20:27-38, The New Revised Standard Version (NRSV).
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 an interpreter of Scripture and 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 topic 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 and Richard Rohrbaugh, Social Science Commentary on the Synoptic Gospels (see link below), pages 309-310.
* Link to Amazon.com Bibliography for Bruce Malina, Richard Rohrbaugh, 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.
Luke 20:27-38 (NRSV)
27 Some Sadducees, those who say there is no resurrection, came to him 28 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. 29 Now there were seven brothers; the first married, and died childless; 30 then the second 31 and the third married her, and so in the same way all seven died childless. 32 Finally the woman also died. 33 In the resurrection, therefore, whose wife will the woman be? For the seven had married her."
34 Jesus said to them, "Those who belong to this age marry and are given in marriage; 35 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. 36 Indeed they cannot die anymore, because they are like angels and are children of God, being children of the resurrection. 37 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. 38 Now he is God not of the dead, but of the living; for to him all of them are alive." 39 Then some of the scribes answered, "Teacher, you have spoken well." 40 For they no longer dared to ask him another question.
New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Luke 20:27-38 (The Message)
27 Some Sadducees came up. This is the Jewish party that denies any possibility of resurrection. They asked, 28 "Teacher, Moses wrote us that if a man dies and leaves a wife but no child, his brother is obligated to take the widow to wife and get her with child. 29 Well, there once were seven brothers. The first took a wife. He died childless. 30 The second married her and died, 31 then the third, and eventually all seven had their turn, but no child. 32 After all that, the wife died. 33 That wife, now—in the resurrection whose wife is she? All seven married her."
34 Jesus said, "Marriage is a major preoccupation here, 35 but not there. Those who are included in the resurrection of the dead will no longer be concerned with marriage 36 nor, of course, with death. They will have better things to think about, if you can believe it. All ecstasies and intimacies then will be with God. 37 Even Moses exclaimed about resurrection at the burning bush, saying, 'God: God of Abraham, God of Isaac, God of Jacob!' 38 God isn't the God of dead men, but of the living. To him all are alive."
39 Some of the religion scholars said, "Teacher, that's a great answer!" 40 For a while, anyway, no one dared put questions to him.
Scripture quotations from THE MESSAGE. Copyright © by Eugene H. Peterson 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.
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."
* Link to Amazon.com Bibliography for Bruce J. Malina and Richard Rohrbaugh, 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.
+ Link to Amazon.com Bibliography for Amy-Jill Levine and Marc Zvi Brettler, Jewish Annotated New Testament, The Bible With and Without Jesus, Short Stories by Jesus, Entering the Passion of Jesus, and others.