That same day the Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to him with a question. “Teacher,” they said, “Moses told us that if a man dies without having children, his brother must marry the widow and raise up offspring for him. Now there were seven brothers among us. The first one married and died, and since he had no children, he left his wife to his brother. The same thing happened to the second and third brother, right on down to the seventh. Finally, the woman died. Now then, at the resurrection, whose wife will she be of the seven, since all of them were married to her?”
Jesus replied, “You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God. At the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven. But about the resurrection of the dead—have you not read what God said to you, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not the God of the dead but of the living.”
When the crowds heard this, they were astonished at his teaching. (NIV)
The first century Sadducees learned the hard way. Trying to discredit Jesus in public is a bad idea. Somehow, probably in a back room and drinking too much wine, they came up with a story that was designed to show once and for all that Jesus was nothing but some hayseed yokel from the bumpkin village of Nazareth who believed in a crazy notion like resurrection. They wanted a once-for-all public showdown that Jesus was a backward hick, not worth the time of day. So they concocted a bizarre hypothetical story meant to discredit the supernatural. They went to the Old Testament to point out the law that if a man dies without having children, the brother must marry the widow and so keep the legacy and land of the dead man in his family. By conjecturing that if this were to happen seven times over, whose wife would she be among all the brothers at this supposed resurrection? As they were snickering to themselves believing that they had demonstrated the absurdity of resurrection, Jesus turned the tables on the Sadducees.
Jesus bluntly stated that the Sadducees were the ones with an absurd story. Their whole notion of what the resurrection is and what’s important about it was lost on them. Jesus said they were biblically illiterate – they don’t know the Scriptures. And, furthermore, since they don’t really know the Law, they really know nothing of God’s power. This was a major dig on a group of people who prided themselves on being an educated elite.
Resurrection, Jesus said, isn’t anything like they described. Resurrection isn’t a restoration of the same life we have here and now; it’s a different life altogether – a new life! To prove what he said, Jesus had a simple yet profound statement: I AM the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; God is not the God of the dead, but of the living. Not “I was” but “I am.” God is God of living people, of life, not of corpses and cadavers, not even of zombies.
The whole point of resurrection is new life – not a resuscitated life, not a reconstituted life, but a new life altogether. The terms ‘death’ and ‘life’ in Scripture are relational terms. Death is separation from others; life is a connection with people. Life, in the Bible, literally means ‘to step into,’ and death means ‘to step away from.’ So, then, in order to be a fully alive human being we step into God by loving him with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength; and, by loving my neighbor as myself. Life means meaningful and loving connections with both God and other people.
God is not just the God of the past (he saved me) or the future (I’m going to heaven); he is the God of the present, of this moment. He exists now and is with us. And what he wants from us is to choose life, that is, to step into relationships, to lean into others, and not choose death by stepping away and withdrawing out of guilt, shame, or fear.
When we distance ourselves from God and others, it is a way of death. We then become in need of a new life. Everyone experiences conflict and/or anxiety in relationships at various times. The person who goes the way of death withdraws emotionally from God and other people and may even eventually just cut themselves off from others completely. I’m not referring to a literal physical hermit who’s in the woods by himself with only a grizzly bear for a friend. I’m talking about someone who is out of touch with others by through superficial talk and never dealing with anything unpleasant or uncomfortable. Entire groups of people can act this way, as well, by dealing with their anxiety by refusing to interact on a meaningful level. Such persons or groups tend to practice avoiding others through being emotionally distant; their prayer requests seldom go beyond skin deep and rarely, if ever, traffic in feelings.
Another way of separation, of death, is the practice of under-functioning and over-functioning in relationships. Individuals who under-function refuse to take responsibility for their own emotions and behavior – they keep looking for someone else to blame their problems on and/or for someone to fix their situation. Under-functioning people believe someone else will give, others will serve, and better people than them will do the world a service. Into this situation enters the over-functioning person. They are all too glad to accept responsibility for other people’s emotions and shortcomings. When there’s a job to be done, everyone loves the over-functioning person. Over-functioning individuals believe they know the right way to do things and they get results. They talk more than listen, give advice freely, and take responsibility for the feelings and choices of others. In a family, the under-functioning person relies on triangle relationships (that is, dealing indirectly with someone through another person) in which the over-functioning person handles all the heavy relational work. Both under-functioning and over-functioning are ways of death because it is a stepping away from what is really going on inside of us; it is avoiding the shadows of my own heart and focusing on someone else’s heart.
We all need life. We are hard-wired for community, family, and relationships. We need a God who raises the dead and gives new life. Stepping into relationships and choosing life means we courageously talk about what we truly think and feel and clearly communicate our limits and boundaries with each other. Stepping into relationships and having life means we take responsibility for our own ideas and decisions and don’t coerce or manipulate others into doing the hard work of relationship for us. It means we make decisions based on what is best for everyone, and not what simply is my personal preference.
God is the God of life. Resurrection is both real and necessary. Jesus said in John 11:25 – “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.” Experiencing the power of God in our lives means to eschew the path of the Sadducees in the way they dealt with Jesus. Instead, we have the privilege and the opportunity to step into a real, life-giving relationship with Jesus through reading and discovering our bibles and talking about what we find in it. We pray, not because we are supposed to, but because it is the means of a living relationship and vital connection with God.
In such a time as this, we all need life – relationships that support one another and buoy each other’s values and spirituality. Life is meant to be lived together in a sense of solidarity and camaraderie – with love as the glue which binds us as humanity. Collective hardship becomes a sacred opportunity to experience life. Jesus said, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” (John 10:10)
May your experience of God be abundant and satisfying. Amen.