a homily for Proper 27C
Text: Luke 19:1-10
What are they talking about?
This gospel isn’t what we take it for.
The people that put together the Revised Common Lectionary have us jumping into Holy Week here. Last week’s story about Zacchaeus, the wee little man who climbed a sycamore tree is the first half of the final passage before the Triumphal Entry. So now, we’ve jumped into Tuesday of Holy Week, Jesus has already driven out the money changers and is in the middle of being harassed by the different religious leaders.
And this group walks up: the Sadducees. Historians don’t know much about the Sadducees beyond the little bit in scripture. They disappear shortly after Jesus and pretty much all that is said about them is that they don’t believe in the resurrection.
They walk up to test Jesus about this and they have the perfect way in. They’ll use Levitical Law. A perfect trap. He’ll get stuck in the Law and in this burgeoning belief in a resurrected body! That’ll be a win-win for them. So they saunter up like cowboys to a barkeep. If a widow marries 7 brothers, whose will she be when she dies?
Here’s the needed refresher course on what they’re talking about. In the ancient world, the system was concerned with the two P’s: a man’s progeny and his property. The dominant belief was that we (meaning the men, of course) lived through our (male) heirs. If I were to die without a son, my widow must marry my brother, so that I could live on through their children—that my brother would be a blood stand-in for me. And my wife, as my property, would be taken care of in my absence. No, the explanation doesn’t make it seem any less strange, does it?
So the Sadducees come up with this great hypothetical brain-twister about a childless widow and her seven husbands so that they could deal with the specific details of ownership. Whose wife is she really? They don’t care about love or partnership or faithfulness or even the Law itself. They have created a logic puzzle and they won’t believe any solution to it.
We assume that Jesus answers their question. He doesn’t. He doesn’t take their bait.
He steps away from this detailed picture that they’ve created. They have cast him as a straw man that they are looking to burn down. Jesus shows them that they have the wrong idea about the Law and about resurrection.
Living and The Matrix
Fifteen years ago, my best friend Ron wanted us to go see a movie on opening night. After it was over, we recruited friends to go back on Saturday for the matinee. The following Tuesday, we went with another group that hadn’t seen it yet. In my life, I’ve only seen one movie more than once during its opening week, and it was this one: The Matrix.
More than sci-fi action movie with a lot of violence, visionary special effects, and provocative visuals, The Matrix is perhaps the most compelling and deeply spiritual movie of the last generation. Despite the danger of overstatement, it may be the most important movie for my generation.
Here’s why, and the real reason I saw it three times in five days: the movie is about seeking a different world.
The central character is a young man living in a world just like this one. But he is seeking something more; he knows there’s more. He knows there is something out there. So he goes online to find it. And what he finds is that this world isn’t all there is, and more over, it isn’t the true world. He discovers that the real world that he knows is a fiction, that the true world is different.
He also discovers something, perhaps more important: that he is important.
Ron and I kept going back to this movie because it tapped into something we already believed: that the real world around us isn’t the true world. That what is expected of us here isn’t what we were called to be. We knew that we were important to uncovering the true world.
Asking the wrong question
The problem with the question the Sadducees ask Jesus is that they are looking at the real world without the vision of the true world. Without the sight given to them by GOD. They worry about the details of death while Jesus is worried about the living of life. Not the how, but the act of living. Are we truly living?
When I left for my CREDO conference a couple of weeks ago, I went into it like a Sadducee. I thought I’d get a new perspective and some new practices that would help me sort out the details of life. That they’d teach me the magic formula for life/work balance or that they’d hand over some new tricks to make our lives easier. Instead, we prayed and talked and worked and lived. And when it was over, my short-sighted search for answers led me, not to answers, but to the more important question: Am I even alive?
The question the Sadducees ask Jesus is how do we sort out property when we die?
Jesus’s response is to say Living means there is no need for property.
Not only is Jesus not interested in dealing with the details of property ownership, he is not dealing with the details of living either. He is dealing with the very act of living, of being.
Resurrection is about living
Baptism is resurrection. We die to ourselves and are born anew to GOD. When we fall into sin, we repent and return—we again die to our old ways and are resurrected.
The concern for us isn’t the dying, it is the living! It isn’t dwelling on the past or worrying about what is to happen in the future, it is what is happening now!
This morning, we’ll take a different approach to the offertory. Go home and read the awesome article by the Bishop of Newark, Mark Beckwith and think about the questions it asks about giving and new life. This morning, let us use a period of silence to pray and think and dream and reflect and discern.
Let us take time to discern what it is to live. Not as the Sadducees, who might reflect on the many ways we can screw up. And not as the Pharisees, who might reflect on the many ways we can live “right”. But as followers of Christ, who invites us to live more fully now.
Life isn’t about our bodies, about breathing, heart pumping, and blood flowing. It is about living in this world as if it were another. Living in the Kingdom Come as the chosen ones. The very thing we pray each week:
Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your Name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as in heaven…