Synopsis: Like the Sadducees, some Christians mistakenly apply our worldly rules to the Kingdom of Heaven, wishfully thinking that age is much like this age.
Scriptures: Luke 20:27
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We humans love to debate. Tis the season of political debates. Over the past few years, though it seems as if political debating has become open season. Any time, any place. That’s how it is with religious debate too. We love to debate about religion – any time, any place – so much so that some of the things we fixate on and argue about can be kind of silly.
For example, many people take the Bible story of man’s creation very seriously. They consider it a flawless account. Unfortunately, there are holes left in the story that some Christians’ inquiring minds can’t help but poke at. Two particular holes that are engage many Christians in serious (but hilarious) religious debate involve Adam and Eve’s belly buttons.
Did Adam and Eve have belly buttons? I mean, since God formed Adam from mud and Eve was born from Adam’s rib, neither of them would have had a belly button, right? Ah … but there’s also the possibility that God gave Adam one for purely aesthetic reasons.
Some artists have skirted this debate by placing fig leaves over the area in their representations of Adam and Eve. Some have painted Adam and Eve smooth-bellied, and some have given them belly buttons. Which leads to another very serious debate – where they innies or outies?
Today’s gospel reading is about a religious debate – certainly about a more serious topic than Adam and Eve’s belly buttons. The Sadducees were Jews who did not believe in a future age where the dead would be raised. They went toe-to-toe with Jesus about this, and we can learn a lot from his response.
First, let’s review the context. Jesus had already made his triumphant entry into Jerusalem, and he caused quite a stir. People started asking, “Who is this guy everyone’s yelling “Hosanna!” about? Jesus immediately cleansed the Temple by driving out the merchants and money-changers. Then people started asking, “Who does this guy think he is?”
While Jesus was in Jerusalem, he frequented the Temple, from where he taught whoever would listen – even those who stood around hoping for a way to discredit or condemn him. The chief priests and scribes saw Jesus as a serious threat, so they tried to trick him into saying something that would justify their arresting him.
One day, while Jesus was teaching at the Temple, the chief priests, scribes, and elders came and asked him, “What gives you the right to drive out the Temple money-changers?” In his usual style, Jesus answered their question with a question: “Did the baptism of John come from heaven, or was it of human origin?” After responding that they didn’t know, Jesus said, “Well then, I’m not going to answer your question.”
Then he told the Parable of the Wicked Tenets, where he spoke out against the chief priests and scribes. He identified himself as the beloved son of the vineyard owner and them as the wicked tenets who killed the son and lost the vineyard.
The chief priests, scribes, and elders were enraged by this, so they started sending spies to try to trap Jesus by asking him questions that might get him into civic or religious trouble if he didn’t answer right. First was a question about paying taxes, which they thought would force Jesus between a rock and a hard place. Jesus brilliantly responded to give to the Emperor what is his and to God what is God’s.
That brings us to today’s scripture reading. The Sadducees now take the opportunity to question this master because they have a theological ax to grind with the Pharisees.
The Sadducees and Pharisees differed in their theological viewpoints. The Sadducees believed in following the Law as found in the Torah and only as found in the Torah – the first five books of the Bible. They considered anything else immaterial, including the Pharisees’ many “Traditions of the Elders,” which the Sadducees felt served only to complicate the lives of the Jewish people.
On this point, Jesus agreed with them.
The Sadducees didn’t believe in the resurrection of the dead and the afterlife. They believed that the only life we have is this world right here and now, and it’s our responsibility to follow God’s Laws. If we don’t, we suffer. That’s all there is to it. There’s no “other world” of a future time where God will bring dead people back to life and bring justice down on their oppressors.
Luke clearly points out the hypocrisy of the Sadducees’ asking Jesus this question about the resurrection when they themselves do not believe in the resurrection. They are simply trying to “stump” this master teacher with their brilliant scenario that they think surely makes the Pharisees’ doctrine of the resurrection ridiculous.
If Jesus is stumped, then their theological position denying the resurrection is bolstered. Their scenario probably wasn’t new to the Pharisees. We can image them rolling their eyes: “Oh, for crying out loud! Here we go again. “‘Now there were seven brothers ….’”
The command the Sadducees are referring to can be found in Deuteronomy 25:5-6. The purpose of the Mosaic law commanding the brother of the deceased to take his widow as a bride was to protect the nation by ensuring that every family and tribe would continue. No one’s family name would be lost.
We can understand how important it was for the Jews since it was believed that the Messiah would be born of a woman from the tribe of Judah, of the line of David.
It seems the Sadducees felt that Moses didn’t believe in the resurrection of the dead because of this law. They figure he must have believed that the only way to be “immortal” (in a non-literal sense) was to keep the family name alive through descendants. If he believed in the resurrection of the dead, why did he create this law?
The Sadducees didn’t believe that the Kingdom of God would arrive at some future time; it’s here now. If it’s here now, then it’s not any different from now. So, people would get married just like they do now, and if the dead are resurrected, that would create quite a problem for a woman had to choose a husband from among seven brothers.
It seems like a logical argument on the surface, but Jesus quickly points out the flaws.
Their first is an application error. They are applying a law from “this age” to “that age.” This is Not That. Jesus essentially says to them, “People die in this age, so they must get married and have children to carry on the family name. People don’t die in that age, so getting married and having children isn’t necessary. Moses created the law for this age, not for that age.”
Their second error is confusion about natural law, which lead to them making their first error. It’s clear that we live in a world of duality – of opposites – of this and that. If there’s “this age,” then there has to be “that age” because it’s impossible for anything to exist without its opposite. Its opposite must exist at the same time, so the Sadducees were correct on this point: the Kingdom of God (that age) is here right now, existing simultaneously with this age. How is that possible?
In the Taoist religion of the East, there a wonderful symbol that expresses this idea: the Yin and Yang symbol. Yin exists relative to Yang and vice versa: light is light relative to darkness. Without darkness, we can’t experience light because we need light as a reference point. Yin and Yang also transform into each other; day turns to night and night to day in never-ending cycles. These opposing forces complement each other nicely because they are in perfect balance.
We westerners might have trouble relating to an eastern symbol, so I brought a symbol we can better relate to: a coin. This coin contains a this and a that. Two opposites – heads and tails. Heads is not tails and tails is not heads. They are opposites; yet, they exist at the same time – united in one object.
We can think of this age as “heads,” and that age as “tails.” Heads is this age of time – and tails is that age of eternity. They are total opposites, yet they exist simultaneously. We experience whichever side is up. The other side is hidden, but that doesn’t mean it’s not there.
The Sadducees were ignoring the fact that in a dualistic world, if there’s a “this,” there must be a “that.” If there is this age, there must be that age. If we must marry and have children in this age of time because we die, then we must not need to in that age of eternity because we don’t die. This is not That.
Another error the Sadducees made is to focus only on the parts of the Scriptures that bolster their argument and not looking at the Scriptures as a whole. Common mistake, right? People zero in on the parts of the Bible that defend their argument, and ignore the parts that don’t.
Jesus says in verses 37-38, “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.”
Jesus proved the Sadducees wrong, and some of the scribes responded, “Well said, teacher!” I guess some Scribes believed in the resurrection. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Pharisees were also very happy with Jesus’ response, thinking to themselves, “Finally, he agrees with us on something!” Truly, Jesus argued with the Pharisees quite a bit throughout the New Testament.
But neither the Sadducees nor the Pharisees were totally right or totally wrong. When it comes to the Great Mystery of Life, we humans have many philosophies, but no one has it exactly right. We have only ideas that may be closer to the truth than others, but until something proves our theories correct, we simply don’t know. There is so much that is hidden. That’s why we need faith.
We know more now than the people of Jesus’ time. Science has revealed to us that everything in the universe is made up of either matter or energy, and just like day and night, they transform into each other in never-ending cycles.
In this age of time, we experience ourselves as this body made of matter but on the flip side, in that age of eternity, we experience ourselves as something like energy. If we’re part of this never-ending cycle of transformation, from flesh to spirit and from spirit to flesh, maybe that’s why to God, we are all alive.
Sometimes we exist on the heads side, in the world of time and form, and we have a human nature. Inevitably, we transform and enter the tails side, the world of eternity and spirit, where we have a totally different nature because this is not that.
We may know and understand more now than people did back in Jesus’ time, but the more we know, the more we scratch our heads and realize how much more we don’t know about the Great Mystery of Life. Nevertheless, we love to debate what we think we know.
That’s why Luke included this debate in his Gospel. It’s a serious topic. It’s critical to the gospel message because if there is no resurrection, then Jesus didn’t resurrect from the dead, and there’s no salvation.
What does this debate have to teach us today in our modern times? Well, there’s a whole lot of religious debate going on today because many people want to argue that the rules of this age apply to that age.
They don’t. That’s lesson #1.
I personally love this passage because in it, Jesus says straightforwardly that that our human coupling rules are only for this age. In that age, souls do not have husbands or wives. Some might find this disturbing; others might find it quite comforting.
One minister tells the story of a woman with terminal cancer. Her husband suddenly died of a heart attack. At the funeral, well-meaning friends leaned over to her as she sat in her wheelchair and reminded her that they would soon be reunited in heaven, that it would not be long before they were together again. Later, when she was alone with the minister, she said, with tears streaming down her face, “I am never going to be rid of him, am I?”
So why would some say that the doors to that age are shut to souls who got a divorce in this age or souls who married someone of the same sex in this age when marriage doesn’t even exist in that age?
They say that because it’s comforting to them to think that age is the same as this age because they are too strongly attached to this age. They don’t want to let it go. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want that age to be the same as this age at all. I’m looking forward to something different.
Those who don’t understand who they are have no vision beyond this age and their physical existence, so they have no choice but to cling to this age. They cling to this age because they fear death, believing that this is all there is or because they desire the things of this world. They want to believe that they can take their bodies and all their stuff with them.
They can’t. That’s lesson #2.
We are part of a never-ending cycle of transformation, so we don’t need to fear death. We don’t die. We transform. But that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t take care of our bodies. We are here for a purpose, and we can’t fulfill that purpose very well unless we keep our physical vehicle healthy.
As humans beings we also naturally have desires, but it’s our responsibility to keep our desires properly balanced. We must be willing to let go of everything that belongs to this age.
The Buddhists are really good at letting go. Richard Rohr is an American Franciscan friar ordained to the priesthood in the Roman Catholic Church in 1970. In his YouTube video, “How Buddha Helps Me Be a Better Christian,” he talks about how helpful it was to humanity that the Buddha essentially said, “I don’t know the nature of God, so I’m not going to debate about that.”
The Buddha’s refusal to dwell on the nature of God freed him to focus on something more practical. He observed how we humans process our life experiences. He observed what goes on up here (head) and in here (heart). We can use his insights to become more self-aware, which can make us better Christians. We can use Buddhism to discover how to let go and find balance.
We must be ready to let go of everything that is of this age to prepare for that age. But we have free will, so it is our responsibility to choose to let go. Perhaps the ones who can let go are the ones Jesus was talking about when in verse 35, he said, “those who are considered worthy of a place in that age.”
So, the truth is that when it comes to that age, we don’t know much – at least not up here in our heads. The personal self knows nothing about the soul or the afterlife. It knows only this age, and it’s quite attached to it by nature. But our hearts know that age very well. We can have faith in what our hearts tell us and confidently let go of the things of this age.
Let’s pray together: Lord, you taught us to be in this world, but not of it. Help us to learn this lesson deeply now as we prepare ourselves to let go of this age and resurrect into a new age. AMEN.
Deffinbaugh, Bob. “One Bride for Seven Brothers (Luke 20:27-40).” Bible.org, bible.org/seriespage/63-one-bride-seven-brothers-luke-2027-40
Gazur, Ben. “10 Hilariously Serious Theological Debates.” Listverse.com, 11 Jul. 2019, listverse.com/2019/07/11/10-hilariously-serious-theological-debates/
Hyde, Randy L. “Sermon|Luke 20:27-38|Seven Weddings and a Funeral.” Sermonwriter.com, sermonwriter.com/sermons/luke-2027-38-seven-weddings-and-a-funeral-hyde/
Rohr, Richard. “How Buddha Helps to be a Better Christian.” YouTube, www.youtube.com/watch?v=TZS9bvxVp6Y