Perhaps you have heard about the attractive young woman who boarded a plane in Los Angeles heading toward New York. She was tired and knew it would be a long flight, so immediately she asked the flight attendant for a pillow and a blanket. She hoped to be able to sleep most of the way to New York. Her head had just nestled into the pillow when a fellow with a loud, booming voice boarded the plane… and sat down beside her. He tapped her on the shoulder and said, “Hi there. It’s going to be a long flight, so to pass the time, would you like to play a fun game?” Politely, she declined and rolled over to face the window. However, he didn’t seem to get the hint and he persisted saying the game is really easy and lots of fun. He explained how the game works: “I ask you a question and if you don’t know the answer, you pay me, and visa-versa.” Again, she politely declined and tried to turn back to her pillow. The man figured that since she was an attractive young woman (and blonde at that) he would easily win, so he made another offer. “Okay, how about this? If you don’t know the answer, you pay me only $5.00, but if I don’t know the answer, I will pay you $500.00.” The young woman realized there would be no end to this until she agreed to play the game, and the $500 did catch her attention so she agreed to play.
The man asked the first question. “What’s the distance from the earth to the moon?” She didn’t say a word just reached into her purse, pulled out a five-dollar bill and handed it to the man. “O.K., O.K,” the man said. “Now it’s your turn. Ask me a question, any question.” She thought for a moment and then said, “What goes up the hill with three legs and comes down with four?” The man looked at her with a puzzled expression. She smiled faintly at him and turned to her pillow and fell asleep. The man turned on his laptop computer and searched all his references on his laptop. No luck! Next, he searched the net, he even got into the Library of Congress. Still no luck! Frustrated, he sent E-mails to all his co-workers and friends. No one had the answer. As the plane was touching down in New York he finally gave up. He tapped the young woman on the shoulder to wake her up and he handed her the $500.00. Politely, she took the money, put it in her purse and turned away and got her things ready to leave the plane. The plane pulled up to the gate and she stood. “Wait a minute,” said the man. “Wait, what is the answer?” Again, without a word, the young woman reached back into her purse, handed him $5.00, slid past him and made her way off the plane. Sometimes when questions are asked, the reason is not simply to get an answer. That was the case of the young woman and it was the case in our gospel story today.
We need to understand that at this point in the time the religious leaders, the Pharisees, the Scribes, and the Sadducees were all angry with Jesus. In fact, time wise in the life of Christ this event is on Tuesday in Holy Week. Jesus will be condemned to die by these very men within a couple of days. So this is not a friendly religious discussion. The Sadducees were a religious group composed of the priests of the temple. It had been their relatives who had been leaders in the Maccabean revolt and they had held the political power in Israel for a bit over 100 years. Even now, one of Herod’s wives was descended from the Maccabees. So they were politically active and they, being priests held religious authority. But despite being one of the primary religious/political groups in Israel, they were very influenced by Greek philosophy and as such they did not believe in a life after death. Further, out of all the books in the Hebrew Scriptures, they said that only what Moses wrote that is, Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy were the inspired words of God. The Sadducees were skeptical of anything supernatural and taught if God was going to reward or punish someone, it was going to happen right here on earth. And after one dies, well, one is dead. It is all over.
So then what was this question to Jesus all about? It was concerning resurrection which is something they did not believe would happen. They thought they that they could show in this story how illogical life after death was. They knew that Jesus did believe in the resurrection through his teaching and they wanted to discredit him. In the Law of Moses, it was written that if a man married a woman but then died having had no children then the dead man’s brother needed to marry this woman and have children. The reason for this was so that the dead man’s land inheritance would not be lost. You see the land of Israel had been divided up among the twelve tribes and then in each tribe it was divided up into clans and then divided up into families. So if a family member died without an heir it was a big thing. The family would lose their land. Therefore there was this rule. The next oldest brother would take the widow to be his wife and have children by her. Then the child born would be considered the dead brother’s heir. For the Sadducees, the question was not really an academic question. They thought they were illustrating their superior thinking to the crowd. They thought they were showing everyone how stupid it was to believe in a resurrection and thereby, how stupid Jesus was. This woman has had seven husbands and since she did not have a child with any of them, not one has a special claim on her. They thought this story refuted the idea of the resurrection by showing how silly things would be if we simply carried on from this life to the next.
Jesus tells them they are wrong. In the resurrection life is not the same as now. People are changed and relationships also change. In the resurrection the institution of marriage no longer exists. People cannot die anymore. Other Scriptures show us that we will recognize and know each other. And simply because there is no marriage is not to say that we will not still love those to whom we are or have been married to. Of course we will continue to love and be loved. The difference will be that it will be a purer love. It will be a better love because there will no longer be any selfishness mixed into it anymore. It will be an eternal love. Jesus does not go on here to describe anything else about our relationships with each other in this new age. We know that we will have new eternal bodies. We will have joy ever more. It will be wonderful.
Jesus says this will be the case for those who are worthy of being part of this new age, this age of the resurrection. You see being part of the resurrection is not just for everyone. Some will not make it is the obvious implication. Jesus says in other places that those who are unworthy will be cast into utter darkness where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. This reminds us of the rich man in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. But then Jesus goes on to correct their wrong thinking about life after death. He shows in Exodus which is one of the Books of Moses that there is a reference to the resurrection of the dead. God identifies himself as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the present tense not the past tense. And obviously if he speaks of them in the present tense that means that they are presently alive. God is not the God of the dead but of the living. The Sadducees thought they could play word games and theological puzzles with Jesus. But beyond that, they figured God was too far away to be bothered with how they lived their lives. Jesus showed them that was not the case. Instead what we do now, what we think now matters. It matters not only for right now, but it matters for eternity because God is on both sides and God is keeping track.
As Christians, we believe in the resurrection. We understand that God will bring this time to an end that there will be a time of judgment. Are you and I worthy of the new resurrection? In our epistle reading St. Paul was reassuring the believers in Thessalonica on this question. He tells them that they were called to faith in Jesus and that through that faith they/we will obtain the glory that is in Jesus Christ. And it is because of that confidence of obtaining that glory that we are to continue in every good work and word. Because what we do now does matter. How we think, how we serve God matters. And remembering that this is the last weekend of our Stewardship pledge drive, I want to remind us that how we give back to God also matters. Let us then have this confidence that what good we are doing now really does matter. Amen.