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First Impressions: Luke 20:27-38

November 3, 2010

This week’s text is all about misdirection.  The question is not really about the question.  It is not a conversation but a trap.  This is sometimes the way we speak to one another in our lives—in the church, in politics, in families.  Our goal is to embarrass, humiliate and make the other person’s position look as foolish as possible.  Our purpose is to win or to deflect criticism away from ourselves.  In the story from Luke, Jesus sidestepped the question and spoke to the heart of the matter.  Perhaps the lesson for us is that if we set ourselves up against one another in this life, we move away from the heart of God.

20:27 According to Eugene Boring and Fred Craddock, the Sadducees were part of the priestly class and were generally more wealthy and conservative theologically.  They believed in the Pentateuch as the only authoritative word of scripture.  Belief in the resurrection, not included in these books, was therefore not orthodox theology (The People’s New Testament Commentary [Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2004], 262-263.)

20:28-33 The Sadducees set their trap by creating a scenario that takes the idea of resurrection to its most ridiculous and improbable extreme—one woman, seven dead husbands.  “In the resurrection…whose wife will the woman be?”  These guys aren’t looking for wisdom, knowledge or insight.  They just want to show the Jerusalem crowds that this wandering preacher is nothing more than an ignorant hick.

20:34-36 Jesus did not rise to their bait, but instead continued the conversation on his terms.  They did not understand what they were asking, Jesus implied.  Resurrection is not simply a continuation of the existence we have here and now.  Resurrection means something else entirely (see the last paragraph).  We try to interpret God and God’s activity in Creation in terms of our human experience and using our own limited language.  That is necessary, because that is the only experience and the only language we know, but we cannot pretend that we have therefore captured God’s work in its entirety.  We see in the mirror only dimly.

20:37-38 I do not think that Jesus means to attempt to prove resurrection by these words.  I think he is speaking of something different and deeper than simply life again after death.  It feels as if he is speaking to a particular quality of relationship.  These patriarchs aren’t really lounging around in God’s bosom with the formerly destitute Lazarus.  There is something in God’s power that creates real life and real living.  It isn’t a matter of breathing or not breathing.  They (and we) were alive and are alive only because of the power of God.  Again, I think Jesus was speaking about something very different from what the Sadducees had in mind.

Before you start on your sermon, be sure to read Kyle Childress’ entry for “Living by the Word” in the November 2, 2010 edition of The Christian Century.  His reflection on this text is extremely well done.  I’ll probably steal—er, I mean borrow—copious amounts of it for Sunday’s sermon.  He discusses the idea that in order to understand resurrection we must be on an active journey with Jesus and neighbor.  The Sadducees were not willing to share this life with Jesus, and so did not have the language, worldview or experience to understand the deep, elusive meaning of resurrection.

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