By Rev. Canon David B. Tabo-oy
33Now, on the day when the dead rise to life, whose wife will she be? All seven of them had married her.” v34Jesus answered them, “The men and women of this age marry, v35but the men and women who are worthy to rise from death and live in the age to come will not then marry. v36They will be like angels and cannot die. They are the children of God, because they have risen from death. Luke 20:33-36
To distil in few paragraphs exegesis of the appointed gospel reading this Sunday is admittedly one of the most difficult. It deals with the closest human relationship that is, marriage, and of the most profound and faith challenging belief: resurrection of the dead to life everlasting. Yet, the question of the Sadducees either motivated by curiosity or combativeness in their way of asking, let us ‘see the forest for the trees.” It leads us to see the more important aspect of our relationship with our God. As a result, it makes us ask the more important question about our faith journey.
“You can’t see the forest for the trees,” is the expression used of someone who is too involved in the details of a problem to look at the situation as a whole. This we often tell a person who fails to see the beauty of a situation because of a preoccupation with small, inconsequential details related to the situation. The Sadducees questioned Jesus about the relational status of marital partners in the age to come. Given the glorious and comforting promise of a life with God beyond this life on earth, why would people quiz Jesus who would be married to whom in that life? Jesus’ response to the Sadducees, “Those who belong to this age marry and are given in marriage; but those who are considered worthy of a place in that age and in the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor given in marriage.” Apparently, the Sadducees couldn’t see the forest for the trees by failing to see God’s wonderful plan for everyone: resurrection and life everlasting in His Kingdom.
If the same question is to be asked of me, my honest answer would be, “I do not know of the details of the future.” But I shall speak in confidence that there shall be the resurrection of the dead as I always lead the faithful every celebration of the Holy Eucharist as we recite what we profess in the words of the Nicene Creed: “…We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come.” I do believe that this is the dividing line to and from all religions or faith confessions and among those who call themselves Christians: rising to life again and life eternal with the giver of life in His kingdom where there shall no longer pain nor sorrow but life everlasting. And this is our belief.
Inquisitiveness about the unknown is understandable, even natural. We see several blockbuster movies and television series that deal with the paranormal, spiritual or mystic topics. They dominate the local and even international telecasts and other medium of today’s audio-visual technologies. But, needless questions divert our attention from life-enhancing assurances. Instead of joyfully affirming that God created the earth, people get caught up in inquiries about the methodology and chronology of creation. Rather than rejoicing over Christ’s sovereign ability to still the storms that arise within us and outside us, some people prefer to debate details of the boundaries of Christ’s sovereignty – seeking explanations exactly who can realize the calm of Christ and when and where it can happen.
Similar to the Sadducees interrogating Jesus in the Gospel reading this Sunday, many people rather than giving thanks for the comforting assurance that God will take care of us at the end of time, devote themselves to trying to determine the date of the end of time and the manner in which it will come. Members of a scholarly sect called the Sadducees had the opportunity of a lifetime with Jesus. They studied scripture most rigorously. They thought about and pondered God day and night. They dealt with life’s big questions. It’s pretty much all they did. So here is the opportunity of a lifetime. Here is God in the flesh walking around among them. Here is Jesus, perfectly willing to talk about the meaning of scripture. Here is Jesus, eager to shed light on the will of God. The opportunity of a lifetime and they blew it. Some Sadducees came up to Jesus and told him this big, long hypothetical story: an elaborate and drawn-out set-up. And then for the punch line, they asked a question. Only it really wasn’t a question. You ask a question if you want to learn something; a fact perhaps, or someone’s opinion, maybe some bit of wisdom. The Sadducees don’t want to learn from Jesus. Their question wasn’t really a question at all. In so many ways we are like the Sadducees.
If there is one belief that the men and women of our world need today it is the belief in the resurrection. Why? Because it is the effective antidote to the infectious disease of materialism.
The story is told of an American tourist who paid the 19th Century Polish rabbi Hofetz Chaim a visit. Astonished to see that the rabbi’s home was only a simple room filled with books, plus a table and a bench, the tourist asked, “Rabbi, where is your furniture?” ”Where is yours?” replied the rabbi. “Mine?” asked the puzzled tourist. “But I’m only a visitor here. I’m only passing through.”
“So am I,” said Hofetz Chaim. (Father Ernest Munachi Ezeogu)
I came across with this very appropriate anecdote relative to asking questions – either they be dumb or life-changing one:
A certain minister has made it a policy for many years to refer “six-year-old theology questions” to his wife. Since she has taught very young children for many years, he says, she has a much better grasp than he does of how to address the questions which little kids ask. The other day, a first-grader brought a drawing of a skeleton into class where she teaches English as a second language. The titled across the top of the drawing read “Inside of Me.” It was designed to teach children that everyone has a skeleton inside of them. He unfolded it proudly and showed it to the class. One little girl from India was astounded at the thought that she and others had this scary-looking skeleton inside them, and so she pressed the issue a bit farther. “Even you got one of these inside you, Mrs. K?” The teacher replied, “Yes, I have one, too.” The next question was the theological one. “Even God got one inside him?” Now in a class made up of children from many different countries, cultures, and religious backgrounds (most of them not Christians), you can imagine that this question had the potential for major theological debate. I doubt if I’d have had the presence of mind to give the answer the teacher did; but, as usual, her expertise in six-year-old theology saved the day. “If God needs a skeleton, I’m sure he has one,” she replied. “God has everything he needs.” This apparently satisfied the theological curiosity of the class, and they got on with the lesson.
Asking questions is an essential part of learning. If we don’t know something, we look for someone who does and we ask. The only dumb question is the one you don’t ask. We learn by asking questions about what we don’t know.
In response to the Sadducees baited question we can learn that Jesus’ answer does not mean that a husband and wife will lose their particular identity and thus not recognize each other. Rather, the relationship with our earthly partners then will be deeper, spiritual one, though no longer governed by the marriage union as on earth. Life in the next age, Jesus reveals that it begins with a resurrection from the dead, involves having a glorified body that can never die, but no longer includes earthly relationship such as marriage. The fact that earthly relationships will be different does not mean we will not recognize each other. Jesus, after his resurrection, was recognized by his disciples.
An appreciation for mystery rests on the foundation of trust; it is not a blind leap into the dark, but rather an eyes-wide-open embrace of God’s promises. Though we may not know the details of how every divine promise will be fulfilled, we need not doubt the ultimate fulfilment of those promises. The glory of God’s future for us does not depend upon our understanding of the future. God remains capable of giving us more than we ever can imagine or understand. (cf. Ministers’ Annual 01-02)
Let us pray.
O God, whose blessed Son came into the world that he might destroy the works of the devil and make us children of God and heirs of eternal life: Grant that, having this hope, we may purify ourselves as he is pure; that, when he comes again with power and great glory, we may be made like him in his eternal and glorious kingdom; where he lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. (ECP-BCP proper 27)**