Summary: For Jesus, the kingdom of God is not primarily about the dead, but about the living, not primarily about life after death, but about life in this world.
For the past couple of weeks, the world has been enjoying the competition of the Winter Olympics. There have been some close competitions. A few major upsets, like the United States hockey team defeating Canada have occurred along with a few life changing disqualifications. All in all, the competition has been intense and the tension almost palpable.
A similar tension pervades our gospel story. For three days, Jesus has condemned the temple system and the religious leadership. He has done this by his triumphal entry into Jerusalem on Sunday, his overturning the tables of the temple money changers on Monday, and his parable about the wicked tenants, which was against the scribes and Pharisees. Now the religious leaders strike back. They try to trap him by asking if it is lawful to pay taxes to Caesar. Jesus cleverly evades the trap. The Sadducees take up the attack next, asking Jesus about the resurrection—an event in which they did not believe.
LOGIC VERSUS FAITH
The Sadducees were a powerful group of Jewish leaders. They controlled the Jewish court system. They didn’t have a lot of the legalistic hang-ups that the Pharisees did. They readily adopted the Greek and Roman customs. Skepticism was at the heart of their religion. They only believed that the first five books of the Bible were inspired. The wisdom literature and prophets were not. They did not believe in angels, or heaven, or hell, or an afterlife. They stressed logic and empiricism, while downplaying faith.
In many ways the Sadducees reflect some of our struggles. Faith was not their strong suite. Angels were a myth to them and not heavenly beings. They did not believe in the resurrection, so the only thing they had was their physical lives. This narrow perspective on life allowed them to focus on wealth, material possessions and comfort.
When we are truly honest with ourselves, we must confess that we have struggles with items of faith. Evolution sounds more sensible and can be backed up by science, as opposed to a literal seven days of creation. The miracles of Jesus are a bit of a stretch of the imagination. Jesus probably inspired people to share their meals with others at the feeding of the five thousand, and the exorcisms and healings can be explained logically, empirically, and scientifically. A person doesn’t need to believe they were the result of some supernatural act of God.
We certainly fall into the trap of being more concerned about this world instead of the next. We store up as much wealth as we can and struggle with the idea of sharing. We worry about our jobs, families, health and scores of other physical things. With our focus on the things of this world we neglect such things as prayer, reading the Bible devotionally, and living as people of faith.
RELATIONSHIPS AND NOT RELIGION
Jesus levels harsh words at the Sadducees. “You are mistaken,” Jesus tells the Sadducees. He uses a strong word for “mistaken.” It’s not, “you’re just a little off track.” Rather it is closer to meaning, “You are completely wrong. You are headed in the opposite direction from reality. You are so messed up you don’t know up from down and left from right.”