Haggai 1:15b-2:9 – Haggai prophesies the future glory of the Temple. Who is left among you that saw this house in its former glory? Take courage people of God. The latter splendor of this house will be greater than the former.
Job 19:23-27a – I know that my Redeemer lives, and that at the last he will stand upon the earth; and after my skin has been thus destroyed, then in my flesh I shall see God.
Psalm 145:1-5, 17-21 – One generation shall praise your works to another and declare your mighty acts.
Psalm 98 – Sing to the Lord a new song! Let the seas roar, and the floods clap their hands! Let the hills sing together for joy!
Psalm 17:1-9– Guard me as the apple of the eye; hide me in the shadow of your wings, from the wicked who despoil me, my deadly enemies who surround me.
2 Thessalonians 2:1-5, 13-17– Do not be alarmed or shaken by word, or by a letter, as though from us, that the day of the Lord has already come. Let no one deceive you.
Luke 20:27-38 – The Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, question Jesus. God is God not of the dead, but of the living; for to him all of them are alive.’
If you read the Job passage, consider singing “I Know That My Redeemer Lives.” A little Easter in November.
Luke 20:27-38: The Question of the Resurrection
Since early last summer we have been in the Travel Narrative, or Journey to Jerusalem. Jesus has been on the road, having left Galilee, marching from Luke 7 to where we are now in Luke 20. In Luke 9:51 Jesus began his journey to Jerusalem. “When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. And he sent messengers ahead of him.” (Luke 9:51-52).
In Luke 19 Jesus arrived in Jerusalem. First, however, he entered Jericho. “He entered Jericho and was passing through it. A man was there named Zaccheus; he was a chief tax collector and was rich.” (Luke 19:1-2) Jericho is about 30 miles east of Jerusalem, just north of the Dead Sea, along the Jordan. Archeologists estimate it is 11,000 years old. Bible students will recall Joshua’s conquest of Jericho in the Hebrew Bible. It is described in the Bible as a city of palm trees and springs. It is an oasis in the desert. Google maps estimates the drive to be about an hour along Highway 1 this morning, but of course that would depend on your papers, sadly. For Jesus, we would have to imagine this was a 2-3 hour walk to Jerusalem. Perhaps he got up the next morning, after his dinner with Zaccheus, and set out early, arriving by midday.
Then Jesus arrived at the Mount of Olives, overlooking Jerusalem to the east, near Bethphage and Bethany (home of Mary, Martha and Lazarus):
After he had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem. When he had come near Bethphage and Bethany, at the place called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of the disciples, saying, “Go into the village ahead of you, and as you enter it you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden. (Luke 19:28-30)
The Mount of Olives is just east of the Old City of Jerusalem, across the Kidron Valley. Historically it was a graveyard. There are an estimated 150,000 graves there. During the siege of Jerusalem, the Romans camped there. Of course the Garden of Gethsemane (oil press) is there, where Jesus and his disciples frequented and prayed on the night before his crucifixion, but no one is sure where. There are four suggested places.
Today there is a Lutheran Hospital on the Mount of Olives called Augusta Victoria Hospital, owned by the Lutheran World Federation (LWF). It was built in 1907 by Kaiser Wilhelm II and named after his wife. AVH cares for about 6,000 patients a year, offering specialized care not available in other hospitals in Palestine. Running a first responder system through Israeli checkpoints is incredibly difficult. AVH is a cancer center, serving many Palestinian Christians who cannot enter Jerusalem.
The U.S. has cut the budgeted $25M in humanitarian assistance to the West Bank in 2017. The $25M for 2018 was not sent. Bishop Eaton wrote a letter to the administration to encourage the recommitment to this important humanitarian aid. The LWF can not sustain the hospital without the subsidy…
Toward the end of Luke 19, Jesus entered Jerusalem. “As he came near and saw the city, he wept over it, saying, ‘If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes.'” (Luke 19:41-42) Indeed. Within 35 years the Romans would be camped on the Mount of Olives. Within 40 there would be a bloodbath. “They will crush you to the ground, you and your children within you, and they will not leave within you one stone upon another…” (Luke 19:44)
Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem is what we remember on Palm/Passion Sunday, the week before Easter, the first day of Holy Week. It marks the final days of Jesus’ journey to the cross. So the structure of Luke’s gospel can be easily remembered. Luke 9 and 19 are the pivotal times. Prior to Luke 9 we have the birth narratives and Jesus up in Galilee. After Luke 9 Jesus sets out for Jerusalem. We travel with him for 10 chapters, four months in our lectionary. Then, Luke 19 to the end we have Jesus’ last days in Jerusalem. Six of Luke’s 24 chapters, one quarter of his gospel will be spent on the last week of Jesus’ life.
During this time, Jesus spends every day in the Temple. Luke 19:47 and 21:37-38 are bookends talking about this. “Every day he was teaching in the temple, and at night he would go out and spend the night on the Mount of Olives, as it was called. And all the people would get up early in the morning to listen to him in the temple.” (Luke 21:37-38) Note that while we make a big deal of Jesus’ first entry into Jerusalem, an important event no doubt, it appears from Luke’s perspective, he is coming and going every night, retiring to the Mount of Olives outside the city wall.
Brian Stoffregen has a helpful outline of Jesus’ sayings at this time. Check out his full post here: http://www.crossmarks.com/brian/luke20x27.htm.
- The “Palm” Sunday events (19:28-40)
- Jesus weeping over Jerusalem (19:41-44)
- Jesus cleansing the temple (19:45-46)
- The beginning of Jesus’ teaching in the Temple (19:47-48)
- The question of Jesus’ authority (20:1-8)
- The parable of the wicked tenants (20:9-19)
- The question about paying taxes (20:20-26)
- The question about the resurrection (20:27-40)
- The question about David’s son (20:41-44)
- The denunciation of the scribes (20:45-47)
- The widow’s offering (21:1-4)
- The Apocalyptic Discourse (21:5-36)
- The coming wars and persecutions (21:5-19)
- The destruction of Jerusalem foretold (21:20-24)
- The coming of the Son of Man foretold (21:25-36)
- The Conclusion of Jesus’ Teaching in the Temple (21:37-38)
Our Luke 20:27-38 text for this Sunday falls within this teaching series in the Temple, in between the two aforementioned bookends.
Luke 20:27 begins, “Some Sadducees, those who say there is no resurrection, came to him and asked him a question…” Luke tells his listeners that the Sadducees don’t believe in the resurrection. He reminds the reader of the same thing in his second volume, Acts 4:1-2. He assumes his listeners don’t know this.
The Sadducees (צְדוּקִים) didn’t believe in angels either. According to Josephus they were the upper crust of Judean society. They maintained the Temple. They believed in no afterlife. No heaven. No hell. When the Temple was destroyed in 70 A.D. they ceased to exist as a sect.
‘Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies, leaving a wife but no children, the man shall marry the widow and raise up children for his brother. Now there were seven brothers; the first married, and died childless; then the second and the third married her, and so in the same way all seven died childless. Finally the woman also died. In the resurrection, therefore, whose wife will the woman be? For the seven had married her.’ (Luke 20:27-33)
Levirate marriage makes sense in this society. If a man dies, his brother marries the widow. It may not make sense to us today in a society where women can work, read, learn and inherit, but in first century Palestine and before, this law provided social and economic protection for a woman when her husband died. The brother is to take care of her. It was a compassionate law.
In a remarkable bit of sophistry, the Sadducees invent a bizarre scenario. All seven brothers die, each one passing her to the next. So Jesus, in the resurrection, if there is one, whose husband will she be? It is of course an absurd question.
Jesus said to them, ‘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 are given in marriage. Indeed they cannot die any more, because they are like angels and are children of God, being children of the resurrection. And the fact that the dead are raised Moses himself showed, in the story about the bush, where he speaks of the Lord as the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. Now he is God not of the dead, but of the living; for to him all of them are alive.’ (Luke 20:34-38)
Jesus responds by saying there is marriage in this age, but in that age there is no marriage. In heaven they are like angels. Jeffrey (“Luke”) says angels means no sex and no food. This image of the kingdom of God flies in the face of those like Reza Aslan (“Zealot”) who wish to interpret the Kingdom of God as an earthly existential kingdom only, where God rules, free of foreign occupation. The kingdom Jesus describes here is clearly an eschatological kingdom, where people are like angels, children of the resurrection.
In my experience people don’t like this passage, because it insinuates our spouses won’t be our spouses in heaven. There is a lot for people to dislike in this passage. No sex. No food. Cyprian uses this passage to make a case for lifelong virginity.
I remember as a child asking my parents about what heaven was like. I had seen so many cartoon depictions of angels on clouds with harps. It’s looked boring. My mother usually responded that it was beyond our imagination. She, like Jesus, would suggest that we’re thinking in the wrong kinds of categories.
Stoffregen quotes Culpepper, who invites to recognize that the victim of an abusive spouse might find it good news that their marriage won’t be binding in heaven. He goes on to remind us of the inegalitarian nature of first century marriage, an arrangement of male rights and female dependence. This inequality is evident even in our text. Men marry. Women are “given in marriage.” Jesus’ points out such arrangement will not be necessary in the age to come.
It is clearly a trick question. The Sadducees don’t believe in life after death. Jesus does. It is interesting to note, for all his critique of the Pharisees, of all the 24 Jewish groups in first century, second-Temple, Palestinian Judaism that Josephus mentions, Jesus is theologically most in line with the Pharisees, who were lower and middle-class rabbis who interpreted the Torah for the masses, according to Reza Aslan.
The Sadducees were from wealthier, land-owning families. They had a lot to lose, so they made their peace with the Roman authorities, even tolerating the daily sacrifice of a bull in the Temple per Rome’s demands.
The Sadducees believed in annihilation. Jesus reminds the Sadducees that Moses refers to the patriarchs in the present tense, which would make no sense if they had been annihilated. Jesus makes his point from texts they revere highly. Even though Isaiah said the graves would be opened (26:19), they had an ashes-to-ashes, dust-to-dust philosophy.
Apparently his argument is convincing in their context, because it says they didn’t dare ask him any more questions, in the verses which follow, yet are not part of our text, Luke 20:39-40:
Then some of the scribes answered, ‘Teacher, you have spoken well.’ For they no longer dared to ask him another question.
Jesus doesn’t settle for this. He goes on to ask a question of his own, and when they are stymied, he launches a more direct critique:
Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets. They devour widows’ houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.
Jesus’ critique is that the Sadducees are all about money and power. This is different than following the God of the living. Jesus is at odds with the Temple and its minions because it exploits the poor via spiritual means, demanding taxes and costly sacrifices and claiming sole access to the divine. Jesus critiqued and violently “cleansed” the temple with a whip, causing a riot in the court of the Gentiles and driving out the money-changers who (for a fee of course) exchanged pagan currency for Hebrew shekels, the only money allowed in the Temple if one wished to buy animals for sacrifices, atoning for sin, allowing the unclean to participate in mainstream society. (Money changers would also collect the half-shekel Temple tax every adult male had to pay to maintain the Temple. Not enough cash to cover your sins? Don’t worry, the money changers are happy to give you a loan at a reasonable rate.) This manipulative and expensive system bilked the poor, putting their few shekels in the hands of the wealthy, land-owning Sadducees who loved to strut around in their expensive robes and receive respect and honor of all.
This invective most certainly contributed to Jesus’ crucifixion, for neither the Temple authorities nor the Roman governor (who crucified thousands with the stroke of a pen) would tolerate any disruption of the economic cash cow that was the Temple.
Thinking about a sermon that connects, if we look at the verbs again, as Anna Carter Florence suggests, we have:
- Moses wrote
- A man’s brother dies
- leaving a wife
- the man shall marry the widow
- raise up children
- there were seven brothers
- the first married
- died childless;
- the second and the third married her,
- all seven died
- the woman also died.
- Whose wife will the woman be?
- seven had married her
Wrote, dies, leaving, marry, raise up, married, died, married, died, died, married.
These are familiar, real-life words that evoke a full range of emotions. Plenty to work with here.
Finally, this is an interesting text in the wake of our Reformation observances two weeks ago. Both Jesus and Luther were critical of the religious systems of their day, primarily because of their effect on the poor. Jesus critiqued the Temple system with its sacrifices and Luther critiqued Rome with its indulgences. In both cases wealthy religious elite were using spiritual and superstitious means to exploit the poor, pious and uneducated. To be a reformer is to stand with the poor against all religious and political systems (often in collusion) that exploit. To be an ecclesiam semper reformandum is to stand against religion as manipulation, to offer grace freely, to preach direct access to the divine, to cast light on the scandalous realities of poverty and exploitation and to constantly examine our own institutions for corruption. Lord, keep us steadfast in your word.