The Twenty-fifth Sunday after Pentecost
The Rev. George Pejakovich
Luke 20:27-38

OFTEN THINGS ARE NOT WHAT YOU WOULD EXPECT THEM TO BE, AND ARE RATHER SURPRISING. LIKE THE STORY OF A YOUNG EPISCOPAL PRIEST WHO WAS IN THE FIRST MONTH OF HIS FIRST PARISH WHEN THE VESTRY MET AFTER WORSHIP. HE ASKED THE SENIOR WARDEN TO STAY AFTER THE MEETING, AND SAID, “FRANK, YOU ALWAYS LOOK SO SAD; IS THERE SOMETHING WRONG?” FRANK REPLIED, “WELL, FATHER, I’VE GOT TO TELL YOU THAT MY WIFE AND I FIGHT ALL THE TIME.” “SURELY NOT ALL THE TIME,” SAID THE PRIEST. “OH, YEAH,” SAID FRANK, “ALL THE TIME AND ABOUT EVERYTHING.” “DID YOU HAVE A FIGHT THIS MORNING BEFORE WORSHIP,” ASKED THE PRIEST. “YEP,” SAID FRANK. “WHAT HAPPENED,” SAID THE PRIEST? “THIS TIME SHE CAME CRAWLING TOWARD ME ON HER HANDS AND KNEES.” STUNNED, THE PRIEST ASKED, “WHAT DID SHE SAY?” “WELL,” REPLIED FRANK, “SHE SAID, ‘FRANK, YOU GET OUT FROM UNDER THAT BED AND FACE ME LIKE A MAN!’” SOMETIMES, THINGS JUST AREN’T WHAT WE EXPECT.

IN THE GOSPEL FOR TODAY, THE SADDUCEES EXPECT TO TRAP JESUS INTO SAYING SOMETHING THAT WOULD EITHER DISCREDIT HIM OR FORCE HIM INTO COMMITTING BLASPHEMY. TO DO SO, THEY ASKED HIM TO GIVE THEM A SOLUTION TO THE ABSURD PROBLEM THEY SET BEFORE HIM; IF A WOMAN MARRIES SEVEN BROTHERS, ONE AFTER THE OTHER, WHOSE WIFE WOULD SHE BE IN THE RESURRECTION? AT THE TIME, THERE WAS NO SOCIAL SECURITY, OR LIFE INSURANCE, AND THE ONLY PROTECTION A WIDOW HAD WAS TO REMARRY INTO THE SAME FAMILY. IF A MAN DIED CHILDLESS, HIS UNMARRIED BROTHER HAD TO TAKE HIS WIDOW AS HIS WIFE. SINCE WOMEN WERE TREATED LIKE PROPERTY, THIS LEGAL ARRANGEMENT WOULD GIVE HER SOME PROTECTION, BUT WOULD ALSO KEEP THE WEALTH AND PROPERTY IN THE FAMILY. THE TRAP IS THAT IF JESUS SAYS SHE IS NOT THE WIFE OF ANY OF HER HUSBANDS, HE DENIES THE LAW, AND, IF HE SAYS SHE IS THE WIFE OF ALL OF THE BROTHERS, HE BLASPHEMES BY SAYING THE LAW IS MORALLY CORRUPT.

WE DON’T KNOW A WHOLE LOT ABOUT THE SADDUCEES, BUT WE DO KNOW THAT THEY WERE THE HIGHEST OF THE PRIESTLY CLASS, DESCENDED FROM ZADOK, SON OF AARON; HENCE THE NAME OF SADDUCEE. THEY RAN THE TEMPLE, THE ARMY, THE GOVERNMENT, AND WERE VERY HELLENIZED; SO MUCH SO, THAT THEY WORKED VERY WELL WITH THE ROMANS. THEY ACCEPTED AS THE WORD OF GOD ONLY THE FIRST FIVE BOOKS OF THE BIBLE, AND CONSIDERED THE PROPHETS, PSALMS, AND OTHER WRITINGS AS NOT AUTHORITATIVE. THEY DID NOT BELIEVE IN THE RESURRECTION OF THE DEAD, OR OF ANY LIFE AFTER DEATH; SO, IT FOLLOWED THAT IF YOU OBEYED GOD AND HIS LAW, YOU WERE REWARDED IN THIS LIFE, AND IF YOU DID NOT OBEY YOU WERE PUNISHED IN THIS LIFE. THIS WAS THE ORIGIN OF EQUATING SICKNESS AND POVERTY WITH SIN.

THE PHARISEES, IN CONTRAST, WERE A LAY MOVEMENT WHICH ACCEPTED ALL THE BIBLICAL WRITINGS AS COMING FROM GOD, AND AS A FURTHER UNDERSTANDING OF GOD’S LAW. IT IS IN THESE OTHER WRITINGS, ESPECIALLY THE PROPHETS AND THE PSALMS, WHERE THE CONCEPT OF A RESURRECTION TO ETERNAL LIFE IS TO BE FOUND, AS WELL AS THE COMING OF THE MESSIAH FOR WHOM THEY WAITED. THEIR CONCEPT OF ETERNAL LIFE, HOWEVER, WAS MUCH LIKE LIFE HERE ON EARTH, JUST SOMEHOW BETTER AND MORE WONDERFUL. THEY SAW EARTHLY THINGS, AND EVEN THEIR RELIGION, AS A SHADOW OF A HEAVENLY REALITY.

THE QUESTION ASKED OF JESUS BY THE SADDUCEES WAS, THEREFORE, NOT ONLY AN ATTEMPT TO TRAP JESUS, BUT TO DISCREDIT THE WHOLE PHARISAIC NOTION OF A RESURRECTION TO ETERNAL LIFE. THE ANSWER THEY GOT, HOWEVER, WAS NOT WHAT EITHER THEY OR THE PHARISEES WERE EXPECTING. JESUS TOLD THEM THAT MARRIAGE WAS AN INSTITUTION FOR THIS AGE, AND THOSE WHO ARE WORTHY OF A PLACE IN THE AGE TO COME NEITHER MARRY OR ARE GIVEN IN MARRIAGE. IN SAYING THAT, HE STRONGLY IMPLIES THAT SOME, LIKE THE SADDUCEES, MAY NOT BE WORTHY; BECAUSE YOU CAN NOT BE WORTHY OF THAT WHICH YOU DO NOT BELIEVE. HE THEN CITES THE BOOK OF EXODUS, WHICH THE SADDUCESS CONSIDERED TO BE THE AUTHORITATIVE WORD OF GOD, IN WHICH GOD SPEAKS TO MOSES FROM THE BURNING BUSH AND SAYS THAT HE IS “THE GOD OF ABRAHAM, THE GOD OF ISSAC, AND THE GOD OF JACOB.” HE DRIVES HOME THE POINT BY SAYING THAT GOD SPEAKS OF THOSE LONG DEAD IN THE PRESENT TENSE, FOR “HE IS GOD NOT OF THE DEAD, BUT OF THE LIVING; FOR TO HIM ALL OF THEM ARE ALIVE.”

I DON’T KNOW WHAT YOUR EXPECTATION OF RESURRECTION TO ETERNAL LIFE IS, BUT MINE IS THAT IT WILL NOT BE WHAT WE EXPECT IT TO BE. ANY ATTEMPT TO DESCRIBE THE LIFE ETERNAL IS CERTAIN TO BE SORELY LACKING IN CLARITY AND WILL PROBABLY BE WRONG; WHICH IS WHY IT IS SO HARD TO TRY TO PICTURE THE HEAVENLY LIFE ETERNAL, AND WHY WE REALLY SHOULD NOT BE SO ANXIOUS ABOUT IT. THOSE WHO TRY TO USE THE BOOK OF THE REVELATION TO SAINT JOHN AS A GUIDE ARE REWARDED WITH LITTLE MORE THAN A HEADACHE, BECAUSE TRYING TO CONSTRUCT A REALITY FROM A SYMBOLIC VISION IS A POINTLESS EXERCISE. WE CAN, HOWEVER, TAKE COMFORT FROM THOSE THINGS REVEALED TO US BY THE WORD OF GOD AND OUR LORD, JESUS.

WE KNOW THAT WE WILL BE LIKE ANGELS AND WILL BE THE CHILDREN OF GOD. WE KNOW THAT WE WILL HAVE SOME SORT OF BODIES, AND WE WILL NEVER DIE AGAIN. WE KNOW THAT WE, AND ALL THE DEAD, PAST, PRESENT, AND FUTURE, WILL BE ALIVE TOGETHER IN THE SIGHT OF GOD. WE KNOW THAT WE WILL RECOGNIZE EACH OTHER, BUT NOT HOW, AND THAT ALL THE RELATIONSHIPS WE HAD IN THIS LIFE WILL BE DIFFERENT, BUT BETTER AND PURER. THE BEST METAPHORS WE HAVE OF THE LIFE ETERNAL IS THAT OF A WEDDING FEAST; WHICH, IN THIS LIFE, IS A JOYOUS TIME FULL OF HOPE AND EXPECTATION FOR THE FUTURE. THUS, WHATEVER THE LIFE ETERNAL WILL BE FOR US, IT WILL BE A TIME OF JOY, OF HOPE FULFILLED, AND A FUTURE BRIGHTER THAN WHAT WE COULD EVER EXPECT OR IMAGINE.

THE PROMISE OF A LIFE BEYOND THIS ONE IS NOT SIMPLY A “PIE IN THE SKY WHEN I DIE” PROMISE; IT IS A PROMISE THAT THE LIFE ETERNAL IS ONE THAT BEGINS IN THIS LIFE AT OUR BAPTISM WITH OUR RELATIONSHIP WITH GOD THROUGH OUR LORD JESUS. HAVING BEEN MADE WORTHY FOR THE LIFE OF THE AGE TO COME THROUGH THE BLOOD OF JESUS, WE BEGIN THE LIVING OF THE LIFE OF THE AGE TO COME IN THIS AGE IN WHICH WE LIVE. THE MUNDANE THINGS OF THIS LIFE LOSE THEIR IMPORTANCE FOR US, BUT THE ETERNAL THINGS, THE LOVE OF GOD AND LOVE FOR EACH OTHER, TAKE ON A DEEPER AND RICHER MEANING. BECAUSE OF THE PROMISE OF LIFE ETERNAL, AND ITS PRESENT REALITY, WE LIVE OUR LIVES DIFFERENTLY; FOR, WHILE WE ABIDE IN THE HERE AND NOW, OUR TRUE HOME IS WITH GOD IN ETERNITY.

THAT THERE IS NO MARRIAGE IN THE AGE TO COME MIGHT MAKE MIGHT MAKE SOME PEOPLE HAPPY AND OTHERS, LIKE THOSE WHO LOVE THEIR PARTNERS IN THIS AGE, MIGHT BE SAD; BUT THAT DOES NOT MEAN OUR RELATIONSHIPS WITH EACH OTHER END. WE ARE PROMISED THAT, WHILE RECOGNIZABLE AS OUR SELVES, WE WILL BE LIKE CHRIST; WHICH MEANS WE WILL BE CAPABLE OF A LOVE FOR GOD AND FOR EACH OTHER FAR BEYOND OUR EXPECTATIONS OF LOVE IN THIS AGE. WHAT THIS WILL BE LIKE, I CAN’T BEGIN TO IMAGINE; BUT THE PAINS, THE DISAPPOINTMENTS, THE FAILURES, AND THE LOSSES WE NOW EXPERIENCE WILL BE GONE FOREVER IN THE PROMISE OF LIFE ETERNAL WITH THE LIVING GOD.

KNOWING THAT IS TO WHAT OUR LORD CALLS US, WE CAN FACE THE TRIALS AND TRIUMPHS OF THIS LIFE WITHOUT FEAR. WE CAN BEAR THE FAILINGS OF OUR BODIES, AND EVEN COME TO OUR EARTHLY END IN PEACE, BECAUSE, ALREADY WE ARE WITH OUR GOD AND HE IS WITH US. SO, WE NEED NOT COWER UNDER THE BED, BUT CAN STAND UP AND LIVE OUR LIFE WITH CONFIDENCE AND JOY, NO MATTER WHAT COMES TO US. WE CAN START LIVING THE RESURRECTED LIFE NOW, BECAUSE, THE UNEXPECTED GRACE OF OUR LOVING GOD HAS COME TO US IN JESUS.
AMEN

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