Have you already chosen your apartment or house for later?
I mean not for your retirement, for the time after, the new age.
Well, if not, don’t worry. We invited someone to this service whose father seems to be some kind of real-estate agent. At least he spoke about his father having many apartments or rooms in his house. Anyway, this Jesus guy seems to be someone good to know for all matters around the time after your retirement and there is opportunity in this service to talk to him and we will also meet him later one to one in the Eucharist.
The Sadducees in today’s Bible story, they didn’t believe in a time after the end of their retirement. They didn’t believe in resurrection and in eternal life. So, they weren’t really interested in the question of housing in the kingdom of God and also not in the question of marriage law but by their questions, they wanted to get Jesus talking about what it would be like to live in the kingdom of God in detail, hoping that they could proof Jesus wrong by getting him lost in the details.
The Sadducees, a group of wealthy Jerusalem families who were closely associated with the Temple, present to Jesus this seemingly unsolvable case about a woman who was married to 7 men, all brothers, during her life-time. Their question: what happens in the life after the resurrection, if you were married to more than one person during your life-time on earth.
As much as I can see the Sadducees standing there smiling at each other triumphantly, I also see the crowd around and for many of them, this was an existential question: What will happen to my loved ones in heaven or in the kingdom of God? Will I see them? Where will we live; in a house? What will we eat?
All kinds of existential questions many of which we might still share with them plus, of course, our existential modern questions: is there a grocery store or a gym close to my cloud in heaven, will there be free WiFi, can we listen to other music than angels playing on harps… Well, you know, the existential questions of today.
Jesus’ reply has two levels: he really answers the question by saying that in the age to come, there won’t be marriage bonds because they are legal bonds on this earth, in this age. They won’t be needed there because we will all be united with one another and with God in ways we can’t understand now. On a deeper level, Jesus criticizes the Sadducees for just thinking of such a case.
“You are concerned with questions about the laws in the Kingdom of God? Even in particular the laws of marriage? Really? You try to find out details that are simply not for us to know in this age and on top, dear Sadducees, you think you are something better because you are very learned in Scriptures and know the laws Moses has passed on to us for this age.”
Neither Jesus, nor the Hebrew Bible give us a clear and consistent picture of life after the resurrection. Neither do we get information about the time, the exact moment.
While Jesus says to the man hanging on the cross next to him: “Today, you will be in paradise with me”, we learn in other passages, especially in Revelation what has to happen first, before the Christ returns to fulfill what he had begun on earth.
So, we end up with many different statements and many different images. For a reason, I believe. The Bible gives us different images of what the new life will be like but doesn’t mean to tell us literally. Life in the kingdom of God will be like a banquet where we will all be united and celebrate, it will be like paradise, life will be like eternal worship of God…
Different images, all talking about the same in different ways. But does this mean life will be like being in Church all day for eternity, having dinner at a long banquet table worshipping all the time? I hope not.
It is not about the details of the images, it is about their general message. They are images of comfort, they are images expressing unity among God’s children, they are talking about us finally being united with one another and with God in peace.
They don’t tell us what it will be like exactly but they want to take away our fear and assure us of God’s care that goes beyond our death. What it will be like exactly, that is God’s reality and beyond our understanding.
Now, I am fully aware that this curiosity is a very human thing. The Egyptians equipped their dead with treasures and even with servants for the after-life, the Greek put money in the hands of their dead so that they could pay the ferry-man to Hades.
Jesus meets this human curiosity with his parables, his stories but not without criticizing us for it.
Another verse of today’s text is noteworthy in this context. Jesus speaks about “those who are considered worthy of a place in that age and in the resurrection from the dead” (Lk 20:35).
Same thing here: for hundreds of years people wanted to know whether they are among the ones counted worthy – understandable. In the middle ages the church started selling certificates for money to ensure them of a quick entry into heaven. Among Calvinists it was common practise to take success, also economic success as a sign for a possible election by God.
So, if you haven’t looked for a house in the age to come, yet, I am proud of you and better don’t ask Jesus what your house will look like and how big it will be.
Because, what our wondering about the details really expresses and what we can find in the question of the Sadducees is the natural instinct of us humans who are constantly trying to take things into our own hands.
We trust God but just to a certain extent, then we want to know for sure and exactly how it works and if we don’t know what will happen of if we don’t like what might happen, we want to do something, we want to take matters into our own hands.
God has revealed herself as the loving and caring God who won’t let just one sheep get lost… But we need to test HER again and again. We trust you, God, a 100%, but we just want to be sure…
The same Calvin whose successors would start to develop all kinds of ways to find out who would be saved and who wouldn’t, in his big book on Christian Teaching (institutio christianae religionis), he himself would again and again come to the point where he wrote something like this:
This is as far as I dare go with my human reasoning. The Scripture doesn’t give more information on this point, and I won’t add any. It remains a mystery and we have to accept this and leave it with God knowing that this God taking care of us after we have left this earth is the same loving God who has called us into being and met us in Jesus Christ. The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob, the living God who is not God of the dead but of the living because to him, all are alive (compare Lk 20:37b-38). Amen.