Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Luke 20:27-21:4

27 Some of the Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to Jesus with a question. 28 "Teacher," they said, "Moses wrote for us that if a man's brother dies and leaves a wife but no children, the man must marry the widow and raise up offspring for his brother. 29 Now there were seven brothers. The first one married a woman and died childless. 30 The second 31 and then the third married her, and in the same way the seven died, leaving no children. 32 Finally, the woman died too. 33 Now then, at the resurrection whose wife will she be, since the seven were married to her?"
34 Jesus replied, "The people of this age marry and are given in marriage. 35 But those who are considered worthy of taking part in the age to come and in the resurrection from the dead will neither marry nor be given in marriage, 36 and they can no longer die; for they are like the angels. They are God's children, since they are children of the resurrection. 37 But in the account of the burning bush, even Moses showed that the dead rise, for he calls the Lord 'the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.' 38 He is not the God of the dead, but of the living, for to him all are alive."
39 Some of the teachers of the law responded, "Well said, teacher!" 40 And no one dared to ask him any more questions.
41 Then Jesus said to them, "Why is it said that the Messiah is the son of David? 42 David himself declares in the Book of Psalms:
" 'The Lord said to my Lord:
"Sit at my right hand
43 until I make your enemies
a footstool for your feet."'
44 David calls him 'Lord.' How then can he be his son?"
45 While all the people were listening, Jesus said to his disciples, 46 "Beware of the teachers of the law. They like to walk around in flowing robes and love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets. 47 They devour widows' houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. These men will be punished most severely."
21:1 As Jesus looked up, he saw the rich putting their gifts into the temple treasury. 2 He also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins. 3 "Truly I tell you," he said, "this poor widow has put in more than all the others. 4 All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on."

Points of Interest:

• ‘Some of the Sadducees’—the Pharisees have become familiar to us. The Sadducees were the other major religious/political party among the Jews in Roman Palestine. The Sadducees were more conservative than the Pharisees in some ways, but less traditional in others. For instance, they recognized the authority only of the Law—the five books of Moses, which were the oldest parts of the Jewish scriptures—not of the Prophets; but they were also significantly influenced by Greek culture and philosophy. Whereas the Pharisees were of the prosperous middle class and dominated among the teachers in the synagogue, the Sadducees were upper class and dominated among the priests at the Temple. The Pharisees were more numerous, but the Sadducees held the more powerful positions.

• ‘who say there is no resurrection’—the Pharisees believed in life after death, but the Sadducees did not. It’s the perfect intersection of their scriptural conservatism (the books of Moses are a bit sketchy on what happens after death) and their urbanity (contemporary Greek philosophy focused on the material world).

• ‘man must marry the widow and raise up offspring’—this law (found in Deuteronomy 25:5-10) was meant to insure that widows could be adequately taken care of—largely through having children who would look after them in their old age—without land, which was the major wealth of each family, passing out of the hands of the family.

• ‘since the seven were married to her’—three different husbands would have made the point. But the Sadducees exaggerate to make the situation as ridiculous as possible. This problem may have been one of the Sadducees’ best ‘stumpers’ in their frequent arguments with the Pharisees.

• ‘those who are considered worthy’—Jesus begins by saying that not everyone gets to enjoy life after death. It’s a great privilege. It should neither by assumed as a right nor dismissed as unimportant.

• ‘will neither marry nor be given in marriage’—the Sadducees seemingly airtight proof against life after death relies on the fundamentally flawed assumption that the next life is just like this one. According to Jesus, the next life operates by different rules. To me, Jesus’ viewpoint makes a lot more sense: what would be the point of an eternal life that’s exactly like this one?

• ‘they are like the angels’—a little dig at the Sadducees, who—despite plentiful evidence in the books of Moses—also did not believe in angels (New Bible Commentary 1012. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1994).

• ‘But in the account of the burning bush’—this is one of the most famous stories from the books of Moses. It’s when God called Moses to rescue the Israelites from their captivity in Egypt (Exodus 3). Jesus is proving life after death from the scriptures accepted by the Sadducees. Moreover, by using such a well-known passage, he’s saying that proof of the resurrection has been right under their noses the whole time. It’s almost humiliatingly obvious.

• ‘He is not the God of the dead, but of the living’—God mentions Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as character references for himself: ‘Just ask Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. They’ll vouch for me.’ He wouldn’t be a very good God if his best references were decaying corpses. To say that God is the god of the dead would be to say that he is powerless.
Greek mythology might provide us with another viewpoint on Jesus’ argument here. In Greek mythology, three brother gods—Zeus, Poseidon, and Hades—drew lots to decide who would rule heaven, who would rule the seas, and who would rule the dead; the loser, Hades, ended up with the dead and was not very happy about it. Since God calls himself the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the Sadducees either must admit that God is a bitter loser like Hades, or that Abraham and the others are alive.

• ‘Well said, teacher!’—the teachers of the law, who would mostly be Pharisees, can’t help but be impressed by and grateful for his refutation of the Sadducees, even though they’re supposed to be allied with the Sadducees against Jesus (19:47).

• ‘Why is it said that the Messiah is the son of David?’—during the birth stories early in his story, Luke makes much of Jesus’ association with David’s lineage. Even Gabriel, the angelic messenger to Mary, calls Jesus David’s son: ‘The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David’ (1:32). Just a few passages ago (18:38), the blind man who calls Jesus ‘Son of David’ is given as a positive example of faith. So, why does Jesus all of a sudden take issue with the Messiah being called David’s son? I think it has to do with the perception of the source of the Messiah’s greatness. It’s not that the Messiah benefits from David’s reflected greatness: ‘this Messiah is almost as good as his dad David.’ Rather, it’s the other way around: David was great because he resembled and to a certain extent foreshadowed the King who was to come.

• ‘David himself declares in the Book of Psalms’—besides being a king and a warrior, David was a great worshipper and writer of songs. This is Psalm 110:1.

• ‘Beware of the teachers of the law’—the people need to be on their guard against the teachers for a couple of reasons: they’re bad examples, and they’ll rob you if they can.

• ‘the places of honor at banquets’—here’s how they’re bad examples. They think they’re great, but they’re actually setting themselves up for a fall: ‘For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted’ (14:11)

• ‘They devour widows' houses’—here’s how they rob you. Widows were relatively powerless in Jesus’ society. We don’t know exactly how the teachers were taking advantage of the widows’ powerlessness, but the point is that the teachers are on the lookout for how to use people’s weakness to their gain—specifically to their financial gain. Ultimately, of course, Jesus promises that the teachers won’t get away with it: ‘It would be better for you to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around your neck than for you to cause one of these little ones to stumble’ (17:2)

• ‘this poor widow has put in more than all the others’—speaking of widows, Jesus exalts this humble widow for her act of faith. These coins the widow puts in would be of worth very little, but they mean a lot more than their monetary value. It’s significant that the widow has two coins, because she could have just given one of them and it still would have been half of her income—far more, percentage-wise, than everyone else’s ten percent. But she gives everything. She is able to do what the rich ruler (18:22) could not: she gives everything she has, and she trusts God to provide for her. She gives to God what is God’s (yesterday’s passage) by putting her life into God’s hands. It’s the only real act of worship we’ve seen since Jesus arrived in the Temple. She is also shrewd with her money: she’s turned her small amount of money into much treasure in heaven (Luke 12:33). And, she has no need to worry even in this life, because she has a good father who will take care of her needs (12:30).

Taking it home:

For you and your family: Do you feel like you have very little to offer to God? Maybe you wonder if it’s even worth giving what you have to give. This passage shows us that God sees and honors the smallest offerings. Thank God for accepting your offerings, humble as they might be, and for seeing them as just as worthy as anyone else’s.

For your friends: Their preconceived notion of what it meant for the Messiah to be David’s son was getting in the way of Jesus’ listeners ability to see Jesus clearly and accept what he had to offer them. Ask God to remove any unhelpful filters through which your friends see Jesus. One common filter is seeing Jesus as only a good moral teacher; but there are many other possibilities as well.

For our city: I think that we as a city, especially with the presence of such a large academic institution, can sometimes, like the Sadducees, be a little too sophisticated to give credence to such things as miracles, or angels, or eternal life. In this passage, Jesus tells us that we miss out on the best parts of life if we dismiss the supernatural. Pray that God would give our entire city a greater ability to accept the supernatural.