XXIII Pentecost, Year C
Hg 1:15b-2:9 or * Jb 19:23-27a
Ps 145:1-5,17-21 or Ps 98 * Ps 17:1-9
2 Thes 2:1-5,13-17
In the second year of King Darius, in the seventh month, on the twenty-first day of the month, the word of the LORD came by the prophet Haggai, saying: Speak now to Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and to the remnant of the people, and say, Who is left among you that saw this house in its former glory? How does it look to you now? Is it not in your sight as nothing? Yet now take courage, O Zerubbabel, says the LORD; take courage, O Joshua, son of Jehozadak, the high priest; take courage, all you people of the land, says the LORD; work, for I am with you, says the LORD of hosts, according to the promise that I made you when you came out of Egypt. My spirit abides among you; do not fear. For thus says the LORD of hosts: Once again, in a little while, I will shake the heavens and the earth and the sea and the dry land; and I will shake all the nations, so that the treasure of all nations shall come, and I will fill this house with splendor, says the LORD of hosts. The silver is mine, and the gold is mine, says the LORD of hosts. The latter splendor of this house shall be greater than the former, says the LORD of hosts; and in this place I will give prosperity, says the LORD of hosts.
* (Job 19:23-27a)
"O that my words were written down! O that they were inscribed in a book! O that with an iron pen and with lead they were engraved on a rock forever! For 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, whom I shall see on my side, and my eyes shall behold, and not another.
(2 Thessalonians 2:1-5)
As to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him, we beg you, brothers and sisters, not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed, either by spirit or by word or by letter, as though from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord is already here. Let no one deceive you in any way; for that day will not come unless the rebellion comes first and the lawless one is revealed, the one destined for destruction. He opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, declaring himself to be God. Do you not remember that I told you these things when I was still with you?
(2 Thessalonians 2:13-17)
But we must always give thanks to God for you, brothers and sisters beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the first fruits for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and through belief in the truth. For this purpose he called you through our proclamation of the good news, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. So then, brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold fast to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by our letter. Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and through grace gave us eternal comfort and good hope, comfort your hearts and strengthen them in every good work and word.
Some Sadducees, those who say there is no resurrection, came to him and asked him a question, "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." 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 anymore, 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."
New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
The resurrection of Jesus has come under assault in critical thought the past several hundred years. It has been suggested that belief in a bodily resurrection is out of touch with modern science. Maybe so, if that science is purely empirical. But science is theory-laden; this can be demonstrated especially in the science of physics. What we know of today in terms of atomic particles, muons, gluons, string theory, chaos theory, all aspects of quantum mechanics is light years beyond what we even thought we might have known in the mid twentieth century. The concept of a bodily resurrection is not such an impossibility anymore. Clergy might wish to consult the work of Thomas Torrance and John Polkinghorne.
On the other hand, it is important to state why the bodily resurrection is so crucial to the arguments of the fundamentalists who rail against so-called liberals for their denial of this tenet of faith. This past month we have had the occasion to read extensively on some ‘Christian’ discussion boards and we have witnessed the often ‘violent’ attack of those who deem themselves ‘true Christians’ against those called ‘liberals.’ Along with denial of the virgin birth, these fundamentalists decry those who deny a bodily resurrection. The problem is that these conservative critics do several questionable things with regard to the resurrection that, if true, would make one want to deny the physical resurrection. Primarily they lack any biblical connection between the dying and death of Jesus with the resurrection. Jesus’ resurrection is cited as ‘proof’ of his divinity. The same argument obtains with the virgin birth.
This kind of logic and argumentation is a theology of glory, and ignores all of the internal connections made in the New Testament between Jesus’ suffering and dying and his resurrection (as the vindication of the innocent scapegoat). Second, these fundamentalist writers are actually arguing for a gnostic approach (even though they would deny it). The veracity of the virgin birth and the resurrection as witnesses to Jesus’ divinity are necessary co-ordinates of their sacrificial atonement theory, where Jesus is the perfect sacrifice for sin (and upon whom God pours his righteous wrath on the cross). Without this divine quality Jesus sacrifice is perceived as worthless. If the resurrection of Jesus simply vindicates the wrath of a righteous (sic) God then liberals are right to reject bodily resurrection. On the other hand, if the resurrection of Jesus points to the vindication of the forgiving victim par excellance then one might justifiably see the resurrection as indeed essential good news for it is the vindication of the way Jesus lived his life as a human!
The Sadducees did not believe resurrection could be proven from their sacred texts (Torah). Modern fundamentalists do not believe that ‘to God all are alive’ can be proven from their sacred texts. Neither group wants to acknowledge that God does not judge us according to the standards of sacred violence. Both groups are ‘strict constructionists (after all what is meant by historical-grammatical interpretation?). Both perceive blessing in this life as proof of God’s favor (after all what is meant by ‘God bless America’?). Both groups engage what Luther would call a theology of glory (after all what is meant by giving one’s life for one’s country as a ‘supreme sacrifice’?).
The fundamentalists misperceive the resurrection of Jesus and strip both the crucifixion of Jesus and his resurrection of his humanity. Little wonder that Philip Lee could write that modern Christian fundamentalism (and ‘‘liberalism’’ in America) shares much in common with the ancient gnostics.
This is the first time Luke mentions the Sadducees. The same can be said of the Markan parallel. The Sadducees are given a less prominent role in the gospels because they no longer existed as a ‘group’ after the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 C.E. But it is not difficult to surmise that the Sadducees had a reason to dislike Jesus, his attitude toward the Temple was clear, it was no longer his Father’s house.
The Sadducees were comprised of the upper class from priestly family. They claimed themselves as heirs of Zadok and rightful priests of the Temple, but these families also controlled the marketplaces and meat markets outside the Temple, they made money, lots of money, trading on the house of God. It is easy to see why the Qumran Covenanters left Jerusalem and perceived the priesthood in Jerusalem as ‘evil.’ The Pharisees just knew that the Sadducees were doing the rituals all wrong. That distress had both sides hating each other to the point of death.
Add further that four families in Jerusalem provided ‘high priestly sons’, and four families only, and that the High Priest is appointed, and is ipso facto a servant of the royal caste, and you can see that the priesthood was not in very good shape when Jesus was around. People would have perceived the Sadducees as ‘haves’, a fraction of a fraction of the people. They had power and ambition, they played around the royal court, ate fine foods, had servants for everything. These also would have been the landowners that depended on the servitude of tenant farmers. These guys are the religious/political/economic wheelers and dealers. They’ve got it made.
When you have everything you want, like the Sadducees did, it is easier not to believe in an afterlife. And if you are strict constructionists, like the Sadducees were, you can point out that the notion of resurrection had an origin, a time it arose on the scene, and that it was much later than when Moses received Torah. It was the Pharisees who held to the notion of an ongoing revelation of Torah, represented especially in the Prophets, but also in a further oral tradition (which later becomes The Mishnah). The Sadducees presumed that when you died it was game over. No worries about what is on the other side because there is nothing. The reason they thought they had it good? Their bounty was a sign of God’s blessing, proof that they had been deemed worthy. Talk about a theology of glory.
What was the problem here? For the Sadducees, death was the ultimate. There was no beyond to strive for or to hope in. What meaning was there in life for those who were not Sadducees, those who struggled to keep a family together, alive and fed? What meaning was there for people who knew the priesthood was a corrupt institution? Were their sacrifices good before God? Or had God turned away from Israel? These are the types of questions that preoccupied people. Fortunately, the Prophets were read in the synagogues, and the prophets had something to say about the wealthy, false prophets and false priests, false kings and royal courts, status, fashion and power.
There is an interesting rabbinic parallel to Jesus’ riposte. “God said to Moses, ‘Behold thy days come near to die’ (Deut. 31.14). Samuel bar Nachmani said, ‘Do days die? But it means that at the death of the righteous, their days cease from the world, yet they themselves abide, as it says, ‘In whose hand is the soul of all the living’ (Job 12.10). Can this mean that the living alone are in God’s hand, and not the dead? No, it means that the righteous even after their death may be called living, whereas the wicked, both in l+`-ife and in death, may be called dead. (Tanh. B., Berakah, 28b fin) cited in A Rabbinic Anthology, eds., C.G. Montefiore and H. Loewe (New York: Schocken, 1974).
Both Jesus and Rabbi Samuel argue that Torah affirms life beyond death. Jesus’ argument utilizes Torah itself in The Burning Bush. Jesus’ suggests that right at the beginning of all God’s works and ways with Israel, God is revealed as the God of LIFE. God is about real life, life evermore. God is not a god of death. Rabbi Samuel makes a similar argument citing in his midrash the book of Job. But whereas for Rabbi Samuel the dead are truly dead, both to humans and God, for Jesus all are alive to God, death is not the end of any human existence nor is there any conclusion drawn regarding reward and retribution. To do so would be eschatologizing the utterly mimetic blessing = wealth theology of the Sadducees.
We need to be careful when we preach the resurrection. We musn’t be caught preaching a resurrection that is nothing more than God’s opportunity to make up for the fact that the righteous might have had a lousy life in this world.
Neither is it a reward for “good living.”
It is a declaration, a declaration that God’s love will not be thwarted, not even by death.
When we deal with the resurrection of Jesus, it takes on double meaning, because his death is both the ultimate expression of that love and the ultimate expression of the hatred of the Principalities and Powers. His resurrection is the declaration (vindication) that those who stand for God cannot be defeated, even by death.
It is this notion of God’s ultimate victory in Christ that ought to give us courage to stand for peace even at the cost of our lives. The time will come when we may be called to witness to peace in this drastic a way. But the resurrection says, "Be Not Afraid."