I have been reflecting in recent times, on how desperately we try to fix the world in our own image to suit our own purposes; and, how desperately we resist seeing anything different to what we want or are used to in our lives.
Fear seeps into the nooks and crannies of our being, corrupting and tempting us to settle for the easiest and familiar ways; rather than having to see God, trust and have faith, and recognising we must be different.
Time and again Jesus points to God as being so different it is beyond our comprehension. Faith, love and hope, as we were reminded by Paul should be at the centre of our lives (1Thess.1:1-10). Paul said:
Remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labour of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.
If you’ve been tracking the Gospel readings in recent weeks, you will have heard about the gathering storm around Jesus which is profoundly frightening. His commitment and love of God is unflinching and resolute.
His enemies are gathering and circling; the Pharisees, the Sadducees, the Herodians and the community leaders, inside the synagogue and wherever the crowds gather to listen and watch. Time after time Jesus is pulled into answering politically manipulated questions with one end in sight, one purpose alone, to destroy and eliminate the young rabbi. Their escalating fear is matched by Jesus’ faith and trust in God.
Do you remember to the story of Jesus being tempted in the wilderness after his baptism? (Matt.4:1-11)
Satan offered Jesus three options after fasting in the wilderness for 40 days: firstly, turning stones into bread so he would never have to starve and so he could save the world; throwing himself down off a high pinnacle and letting the angels catch him and showing the world he is immortal and will live forever (and just think about that sort of power); and finally, brutal, worldly power with all the kingdoms of the earth worshiping and given over to him if only Jesus would worship Satan.
The stories of Jesus we have been hearing over the last few weeks are a complete antithesis to such visions given by Satan. Matthew told us about Jesus coming into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey, a most unlikely Messiah, one who is not drunk on power nor at the head of an army threatening violence and terror to overthrow the oppressors.
The next day Jesus went to the Synagogue and overturned the money tables, directly challenging the economic authority and brutal oppression of the synagogue’s financial system of power. Then Jesus teaches the crowds in the Synagogue, with the stories of the vineyard owner with two sons, the story of the landlord and the wicked tenants; and last week, the story of the wedding feast of the King’s son.
Jesus’ enemies are in no doubt:
When the chief priests and Pharisees heard his parables, they realised he was speaking about them. They wanted to arrest him, but they feared the crowds (Matt.21:45-46).
Jesus’ enemies react viciously which we see in the next two stories.
Let us be in no doubt, this is Satan come out of the wilderness, with the third temptation, rephrased in a question about taxes. Jesus says to Pharisees and Herodians, as he said to Satan:
Worship the Lord your God and serve him only. Money is Caesar’s coin, let Caesar have it, but you are the image of God, you and the whole world belong to God and you owe yourselves to him. Give God what you owe.
Satan’s second temptation is repeated in the next attack by the Sadducees on the matter of the resurrection. In response, Jesus is scathing.
You are wrong, because you know neither the scriptures nor the power of God.
The Sadducees were traditionalists who based their beliefs solely on the Pentateuch, the original five books of Moses, as opposed to the Pharisees, who drew on the whole of what became the Hebrew Scripture. The Sadducees believed their theology excluded resurrection, and they quoted Deuteronomy at Jesus to emphasise their position.
God is way above your theology, with God, everything is always better. Obviously, if you know anything about God, life cannot end in Death.
We know the resurrection is a key doctrine essential to Jesus’ life, work and teachings (Matt.17:22-23).
The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into human hands and they will kill him, and on the third day he will be raised.
And to round off this referencing to Satan’s assaults, the story in the following few verses of this chapter (Matt.22:44-48 included as the Gospel next week), corresponds to the first of the wilderness temptations, when Jesus reminds his listeners you cannot live by bread alone.
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbour as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.
In the Gospels we are reminded over and over again:
In him was life: and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it (John 1:4-5).
The Sadducees’ initial problem is they do not understand the scriptures in the same way as Jesus. They interpret Scripture through the lens of their own preconceived notions of possibility. Rather than allowing Scripture to inform them of what is possible, they rule out the possibility of the resurrection from the start.
For Jesus there is no need to argue about the possibility of the resurrection; it is possible because it is real.
For God, reality comes first and informs possibility. God does not operate within the bounds of possibility. God declares reality in God’s own creative will and power.
What we understand as possible is not based on our limited experiences or our even more limited logic; rather, what is possible is understood by what God declares as real.
God did not first inquire about the logical possibility of the Creator becoming a human, or the Lord of Heaven dying a criminal’s death. God willed the incarnation and as it a result it became possible. God’s reality precedes possibility.
The Sadducees are mistaken in their understanding of the Scripture because they rule out that which appears impossible from the outset, and they fail to allow God’s creative power to inform them of what is possible.
The resurrection is unlike any reality they can fathom. It does not correspond to our understanding of marriage in a one-to-one fashion.
Rather the resurrection is a reality God’s revelation makes clear to us. By faith we understand the resurrection, not by preconceived conceptions of what is possible.
The rules of the after-life are not bound by our logic or limited by our creative imaginations. God’s self-revelation is both trustworthy and reliable.
The Sadducees cannot imagine resurrected life because they are too busy clinging to the status quo, which has served them well, too busy looking after themselves and protecting their world. Jesus says to them:
God is not God of the dead, but of the living.
The Sadducees cannot imagine a living God. When they reflect on it as they did with their absurd example with Jesus, they clearly see eternal life as more of the same which it clearly isn’t.
I suspect there are times when we prefer a dead God, a God who doesn’t interfere with our grand conquests of life, a God whose only job is to secure a place for us beyond this life and then get out of the way so we can continue. We’d rather have a God who fits our worldviews, our demands, our cultural and economic norms.
At times we are standing with the Pharisees and Sadducees quoting the law at God.
The power of God is not limited by death; rather, death is limited by the power of God. The resurrection of the dead is God’s affirmation of life, the demonstration of God’s power over death.
As I said at the start, far too often our understanding of God and Scripture is based upon our own preconceived notions, set by our families, culture and economic realities and our unwillingness to have faith, trust and hope in God.
We filter what we believe about God, salvation and humanity through the lens of what we know to be true which is separated from God’s self-revelation in Christ.
Let us learn the lesson of the Pharisees and Sadducees and understand, we know neither the Scriptures not the power of God and instead remember to have faith, love and hope.
The Lord be with You.