Summary: What does the resurrection/heaven mean for us? Can we believe it without seeing it? Do we really trust in the promises of Christ?
Can You Believe It?
32nd Ordinary, Year C
In an attempt to disprove or discredit God the Creator Almighty, the atheist may ask the Christian, Can God create a rock so big that he can’t lift it? Now we’re trapped… If you answer, “No, God can’t create a rock so big that he can’t lift it.” Then you’ve upheld God’s great power, but have discredited God’s creative ability. But if you answer, “Yes, God CAN create a rock so big that he can’t lift it.” Then you have upheld God’s creative ability and discredited his omnipotent power. So what’s a Christian to do? How do we answer, “Can God create a rock so big that he can’t lift it?” Well, the simplest answer is, “Why would he want to?”
Okay, so that doesn’t really address the actual question at hand. But this question from an atheist to a Christian - trying to trap the Christian into disproving one aspect of the God in which she believes is similar to the Sadducees’ question to Jesus in today’s scripture: If, according to God’s law, a woman is married by seven consecutive brothers – none of whom produce children. When they all die and are resurrected, “Who’s wife will she be?”
This question was intended to trip up Jesus. It’s not a question about faithfulness in marriage, but rather a question intended to disprove the existence of the resurrection or at least prove that the resurrection and the Laws of Moses were at odds with each other.
You see, the Sadducees did not believe in a resurrection. Their faith and religious practices were based solely on the Torah – the Law of Moses (or in our Bible, the first five books of the Old Testament). Imagine if all the knowledge you had about God and God’s desires for you came from those books – your knowledge and understanding would be quite limited and I’m sure your faith and practices would be quite different.
No where in these books which make up the Sadducees “bible” is resurrection mentioned, therefore they didn’t believe in it. Instead, the emphasis in these books is on God’s blessing of future generations. So the Sadducees were concerned with procreation and lots of it. The way their faith was embodied was in having children and passing the faith on to children. Thus, the question of the woman married seven times to seven brothers but still died childless would have been a great issue for the Sadducees on a couple of levels. First was the idea of dying childless. But more important in the effort to entrap Jesus was the issue of polyandry (one wife having multiple husbands at one time) – which is forbade by the scriptures - and there issue of a wife as a possession/commodity. So, in essence the Sadducees were asking Jesus – When they all die, will she be one wife with seven husbands or which husbands will be cheated out of their possession (a.k.a. their wife)?
If Jesus answered that she would be one wife with seven husbands, or if he singled out one husband above the others, he would be accused of breaking Levirate law. So what’s he to do?
Well, just as the atheist’s question isn’t really about the rock, but about disproving God’s existence. The Sadducees’ question isn’t really about marriage, but about discrediting the resurrection.
So Jesus focused on the resurrection and offered two responses: first he says, life in the resurrected state is not like our life on earth. And secondly he says, God is the God of the living and not the dead. So, let’s look at these two ideas and what they teach us today.
Jesus says, Life in God’s eternal kingdom is not going to be bound by the ideas and ideals of this world. Think of all the jokes you’ve heard over the years about people going to heaven. In each of these, we poke fun at and challenge our concept of heaven and the fact that we try to create the unknown in the image of the known. When you close your eyes and picture heaven, what do you see? Angels winging about with halos, bouncing from cloud to cloud? A long line of people standing outside a great golden fence? A group of your family and friends standing there waiting to greet you? Do you see streets paved wiht gold and buildings on either side? Do you see just a great light? We all have different images, I’m sure! And the truth is we may all be right and we may all be wrong – we just don’t know!
But what we do know from today’s scripture is that in the resurrection we will not be the same and our relationships will not be the same. At the time of resurrection, all will become whole, we and all our relationships will become perfected. As Paul writes to the early believers in Corinth, “For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears…Now we see but a poor reflection in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” (1 Corinthians 13:9-10, 12) And in this perfection, only available through the resurrection grace of God, we will not need strength and foundation that relationships such as healthy marriages and friendships provide. In the resurrection there will be no need for procreation, because all will live eternally. In the resurrection, our only care will be our desire to praise God – possessions and wealth will hold little, if any sway in our eternal living.