That’s Not How This Works
When I was young, and I would complain to my mom about someone making fun of me she’d remind me of the saying, “Sticks and stones can break my bones, but words can never hurt me.” I never bought into that saying because, well, when people said mean things to me, it hurt. But I would bravely recite that saying to the children taunting me, as I tried to fight back my tears.
We know that words do hurt. With the advent of social media, insults are hurled in great quantities and with greater frequency than ever before. Words have power, and they can be spoken in love or not. Remember the last time someone said something kind to you. Just remembering that is a pleasant experience. Remember the last time someone said something cruel to you. It may still sting. Kids are the best for keeping me humble. On Halloween, Pastor Mary and I were at the church handing out candy. A trick-or-treater ran over to me, she seemed happy to see me. But as she got closer her face changed. She said, “Oh, I didn’t know you were so old.” I had to laugh, but it still stung just a little.
Jesus’ enemies knew the power of words. They didn’t want to help Jesus. They wanted to embarrass Him. They wanted to humiliate Him publicly. They wanted to destroy Him. In fact, they were plotting to kill Him. But they didn’t want to create a martyr. Before they killed Jesus, they needed first to discredit Him. If they could discredit Jesus, then people wouldn’t remember Him fondly. They wouldn’t write books about Jesus and erect shrines to His memory. Jesus’ enemies wanted to be sure that, when they killed Him, He was dead – dead and gone!
So they attacked Jesus with words. We have one of those attacks in our Gospel lesson today. Let me give a little background for today’s scripture. Jesus was in Jerusalem. This was His final visit to Jerusalem. He had only days to live. He had just finished turning over the tables of the money changers at the Temple. Jesus had offended most of the powerful men earlier, but spilling money all over the temple floor was the final straw.
Jesus’ enemies felt that they MUST do something. They MUST stop Jesus. They MUST discredit Him in a public forum. Then, they could kill Him, and he would be gone for good. So the priests, scribes, and elders came at Jesus with a question. They asked, “Tell us, by what authority do you do these things?” Long story short, they wouldn’t answer his question, so he didn’t answer there’s.
Then they asked, “Is it lawful for us to pay taxes to Caesar, or not” (20:22). That question looked like a surefire winner. If Jesus said, “Yes, it’s lawful to pay taxes to Caesar,” He would offend lots of people who hated paying taxes – especially to Caesar. But if Jesus said, “No, it’s not lawful, the Romans would execute Him for treason. But Jesus responded, ”Why do you test me? Show me a denarius” – the Roman coin they were required to use to pay their taxes. So one of them pulled a denarius coin from his pocket and handed it to Jesus. Jesus asked, “Whose image and inscription are on it?” They answered, “Caesar’s.” So Jesus said, ”Then give to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (20:25). Luke tells us that His enemies marveled at His answer, and were silent (20:26). But they weren’t through with Jesus.
The Sadducees had been sitting on the sidelines watching Jesus get the best of the priests. They decided to try to discredit Jesus. They had the perfect question. The Sadducees asked Jesus a question about the resurrection. Many Jews believed in the resurrection, but the Sadducees did not. They accepted only the first five books of the Bible as authoritative, and those books don’t mention the resurrection – so the Sadducees didn’t believe in the resurrection.
They hoped to trap Jesus with a tricky scenario. As background, you need to understand that, if a Jewish man died without children, Jewish law required the dead man’s brother to marry the dead man’s wife so he could give her a child to honor his dead brother’s memory. So the Sadducees spun their web. They told of a man who died without children. The man’s brother married his dead brother’s wife, but still, she had no children. Then her second husband died, so another brother married her. Again she had no children. There were seven brothers in all, and all seven married her in turn and died, leaving her, in the end, with no children.
Then the Sadducees popped their question: ”In the resurrection, whose wife will she be?” (20:33). This is where I picture Jesus rolling his eyes. The Sadducees have completely missed the point of resurrection, and they don’t even know it. I imagine him saying, “That’s not how it works, that’s not how any of this works.” Marriage doesn’t even exist in the resurrection. People become like angels and are children of God.
Then Jesus gave an example from Jewish history to prove that there is a resurrection. Jesus reminded them that, at the burning bush, God told Moses: “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob” (Exodus 3:6). Note God did not say, “I was the God of Abraham.” God did not say, “I used to be the God of Abraham.” God said, “I am the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” God told Moses to tell that to the Israelites. Then Jesus concluded, ”Now (God) is not the God of the dead, but of the living, for all are alive to him” (20:38). In other words, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob all died – but God declared that he IS STILL their God. Therefore, they must be alive. If they are alive, they must have been resurrected from the dead. Therefore, there must be a resurrection.
Some of the scribes said, “Teacher, you speak well” (20:39) – and no one dared to ask Jesus another question (20:40). The Sadducees had studied those scriptures thoroughly their whole lives. Why hadn’t they noticed that reference before? I imagine it was because they had no reason to notice it. They were powerful, successful, rich and comfortable. This earthly world worked for them. Why should they look for evidence of another? It wasn’t in their frame of reference.
Years ago, Karl and I were playing a game with some other couples. It was called Guestures, a charade kind of game. Karl and I had to act out some words. One of them was “Bundt”. All I could think of was a Bundt cake. I couldn’t imagine how we could act that out? Karl, however, was confident and he insisted on taking that word. I thought he was crazy. He just smiled. I worried. Our turn came. He walks up to the front and quickly squared into the bunting position from baseball. The audience immediately shouted “Bunt!”. It was at that moment I realized how closed-minded I had been. Baseball wasn’t in my frame of reference. As we live our lives, let us be mindful of our frame of reference. Our God is not limited to this earthly reality. God loves us too much to lose us in death. Paul says it best in Romans 8:38-39 “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Amen