S. Pentecost 22.19 “In Heaven, We’ll Be Different” Luke 20:27-40
So, anymore questions for Jesus? I know we all think we’ve got a couple that we’re just dying to ask Him, but seeing how silly He makes the Sadducees and Pharisees look (and the scribes, and Herod, and Pilate, and His own disciples, fairly often) well… maybe not, huh? That’s one of the great things about actually reading the Bible instead of just reading about the Bible: it shows us new ways of thinking, feeling, speaking, acting—especially toward God. It has a way of making us humble, fearful of Him, trusting, loving, in ways that are not natural to us, but can be learned and put on like a new suit of clothes.
Not everyone learns this lesson, though. The Sadducees, scribes, priests, Pharisees, Herod, Pilate, and some of His own disciples (*cough* Judas!) did not finally learn it, even though they had the Word in the flesh, right in front of them. You would think having Jesus right in your face instead of veiled in human words on a page would make it easier to receive what He says, but I don’t know. Maybe not? Seeing God face to face as Moses discovered in our Old Testament lesson was not a pleasant experience for a sinful person. Peter’s first inclination in his first meeting with Jesus in the boat after the miraculous catch of fish (in which it dawned on Peter Who this Is) was to ask, politely, for Jesus to go away. Maybe print is better for us as we are now?
Anyway, the main lesson the Sadducees should have learned (but did not) but which you—the careful reader—may learn right now is: don’t you mess with Jesus! Don’t try to fit Jesus into your little boxes and philosophies and categories and theologies. He won’t fit! You will not only fail to capture Him, domesticate Him, mold Him to your measure, but you will ruin your box, philosophy, category, and theology…
This is a hard lesson to learn though. It has taken me over a half century, much of it spent studying God’s Word and the Christian grammar of it (with some fine teachers) to learn it and I often need reminding because I backslide into that box-fitting mode pretty easily. Sin, as Luther, Athanasius, and other sharp readers see is: being turned in on ourselves which is to say trying to fit God into our boxes, our worlds, trying to make Him do chores for us, instead of being fitted into His Story, His Way, faithfully to do His bidding as children, lambs, warriors, wayfarers, slaves, princes, even friends in the End. We would rather chose our role in this great drama than have it assigned. We would rather direct than act according to instructions. We all think we know how the Story should go and want to fit God into our telling of It, rather than be absorbed by His Word and Ways into the Story as He tells IT.
Which takes us back to the Sadducees who exemplify this tendency of sinful humanity to try to direct God in a play of our devising instead of acting in His Production according to His Direction. Now, you would think if a son of David, born in Bethlehem, doing miracles, giving sight to men born blind, making those born lame to run, Who tells us of God and Heaven in a way that has real Glory and Power, looking and acting every inch the King of Kings—if Someone like that came along fitting rather well the Old Testament description of the Christ, the Son of God, that you’d listen to Him, even if some of what He said stung a bit, right?
But no. This was not the Sadducees’ way (nor the Pharisees’, scribes’, priests’, Romans’, Jews’, Gentiles’, or even His own disciples’ manner, truth be told). They didn’t like how the Story goes in Jesus’ telling. They didn’t like their role as fools, sinners, toddlers, dolts, miscreants, and idolaters. So, they argued with Jesus. They picked at every little nit they could find. They tried to make Him look foolish, mistaken, silly. Which seems silly—when dealing with an Omniscient Guy!
Jesus was just talking to them about the Stone the builders rejected, crushing all the other stones. He’d talked a lot about dying with Him and being raised up new and different. And they did not like the sound of any of that! The Sadducees were liberal mainline Protestants who’d departed from most of the old ways and worship of the church. They had reformed all the medieval nonsense out of their religion. They’d made it sober, sensible, and austere. Something sophisticated modern people could embrace.
First thing to go was the notion of a resurrection of the Body. They were gnostics, basically, who thought the only life after death, if there were any, was the life of the spirit. They were kind of Buddhist, thinking we’d get absorbed into the One, or like Star Wars fanboys thinking we’ll just merge with the Force. So when Jesus went around talking about a literal heaven where we’d see God face to face in physical bodies, actually walking and talking with Him like Adam and Eve in the Garden, they snickered and thought: “here is His weak spot!”.
So they come to Him with a question: in the Old Testament it says if a man dies without children, the next oldest brother must take his wife and have children with her who will inherit the deceased brother’s name and property (90% of the estate in biblical times went to the oldest brother. So this was an onerous deal as it meant the next surviving brother wouldn’t get the estate but the son he had with the oldest brother’s widow would). The Sadducees did not like the idea of living in old age off an allowance from their son… at all.
So they asked if a woman whose husband died was had as wife by all seven brothers, with no children, in the Resurrection of the Dead, whose wife would she be? And they say this snickering.
Jesus goes “Oh, no! You’re very much mistaken! Really, it isn’t like that…” We’ll all be different in Heaven, see? There won’t be anymore marrying or procreating, we’ll be equal to angels, sons/daughters of God who cannot die, sons of the resurrection. Like Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob who are not dead but living eternally, happily, bodily with God right now in Heaven, because God is not the God of the dead but the living as all live to Him.
They said “Good answer.” But did not mean it. But they couldn’t come up with a smart answer like a wise man once said “The woman knows her real husband”.
And we want to go: “How will Heaven make us different? In what way? Will our earthly spouses still be our spouses? Will they still give advice? Why do You connect not being able to die with not being able to marry?”
But see, that’s exactly the move the Sadducees made—why they were sad, you see: because they argued with Jesus, tried to direct Him in their play instead of taking the roll He assigns His own.
The right move is simply to believe what He says, especially when we don’t understand it. This is the Way of Faith. And you put it on like a new suit—the role you were born to play—here, now: in the Holy Liturgy the Story gets told; you get put in your place; the lines are fed you by Word and Sacrament, until… there are no more questions, but just the song we “sing with all the saints in glory, [the Resurrection song]. Life eternal! Heaven rejoices!: Jesus lives who once was dead. Shout with joy, O deathless voices! Child of God, lift up your head! Life eternal! Oh, what wonders crowd on faith; what joy unknown, when, amid earth’s closing thunders, we shall stand before the throne.” Different. Like Jesus. In His Name. Amen.