Sunday Night Musing: The Sadducees' Question

When I hear the scripture at church and the subsequent passage, I try to ask, "So what?" So what does that passage mean for my life? Sometimes that's obvious: "Love your neighbor." Yes, I may need to take the extra effort to do that and figure out what that looks like in my particular context, but I get that my response from the passage would be to go and actually love my neighbors--not just stare at them from behind curtained windows. 

That's my whole goal for encountering God's word through sermons--to figure out what it means for my life. I believe they're transforming words--not just good teachings. Often in Jesus' teachings it's not to difficult to see where my life needs to be transformed by His words. Sometimes it's not so easy.

Like tonight's passage (Luke 20:27-38). A group of Sadducees approach Jesus. They happen to be a Jewish sect at odds with the Pharisees (who were also at odds with Jesus most of the time), especially regarding the afterlife. The Sadducees didn't believe it existed. Death was the end. There were no rewards or punishments for life, just finality. I haven't studied them much, but it seems that they come to Jesus to know if He's on their side or the Pharisees' side.

So they tell Him a story: Supposing there's a man who dies before he has children, and he has six brothers (now in ancient Jewish culture, it was crucial that a man have offspring. If he died before he had any it was his brother's obligation to marry his wife and produce an heir for him. It's a little twisted, I know, but that's how it was). So the next brother marries the woman, but again dies before a child is conceived. So the next brother marries her, but dies, and so on until all seven brothers have been married to this woman at one point or another.

Thinking that this story will entice Jesus to point out the ludicrousness of the notion of an afterlife, they ask Jesus which man will be the woman's husband in the afterlife.

Jesus sets them all straight:
“Marriage is for people here on earth. But in the age to come, those worthy of being raised from the dead will neither marry nor be given in marriage. And they will never die again. In this respect they will be like angels. They are children of God and children of the resurrection.
“But now, as to whether the dead will be raised—even Moses proved this when he wrote about the burning bush. Long after Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob had died, he referred to the Lord as ‘the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.' So he is the God of the living, not the dead, for they are all alive to him.” (Luke 20:34-38)
Jesus gives a new perspective. There is an afterlife and it's not at all how you imagine it will be. Our life here is messed-up and burdened with laws meant to help us find the right path, but the point isn't the laws or our theology--the point is God and life with Him.

Now, this is a good teaching. It's one of the first times in the Bible that we get a little more detail about the afterlife.

But I, along with the majority of Christendom, believe in the afterlife. Two millennia of church doctrine has reinforced it's existence for us.

So what? What does this passage mean for me? How does it transform my life?

I've come up with two thoughts for me:

1. That it isn't good to spend too much time thinking about proper doctrine and codes of conduct. That was where the Sadducees were at. They wanted what they believed to be correct, and they wanted their opposition to be taught a lesson. Now proper doctrine is important, of course. But not for the sake of proving others wrong. It's important for the sake of living it out. It's important for knowing God and how to follow Him.

2. The fact of the afterlife should transform my daily living. At least, it seems to me that since there is an afterlife--a Heaven and Hell, a place where we'll spend eternity, judgment and an ever-after with God--that my daily life should be influenced by that thought. Not that I live a good life to be rewarded, but that I live knowing that the messiness of life now is not how it's supposed to be. Knowing that the pain and suffering will end and one day everything will be set right.

I can react differently when an injustice happens to me because I know it's not the end. I see the student at school who is being mean to another student differently because I know she has a soul meant for eternity with God--instead of being angry at her, I can find out what's troubling her. I don't always think this way, of course, but the passage helps remind me of this. I guess that's the "so what?" for me.

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