Band of Tricksters
Then Jesus was approached by some Sadducees-religious leaders who say there is no resurrection from the dead. They pose this question: "Teacher, Moses gave us a law that if a man dies, leaving a wife but no children, his brother should marry the widow and have a child who will carry on the brother's name. Well suppose there were seven brothers. The oldest one married and then died without children. So the second brother married the widow, but he also died. Then the third brother married her. This continued with all seven of them, who died without children. Finally, the woman also died. So tell us, whose wife will she be in the resurrection? For all seven were married to her!" Jesus replied, "Marriage is for people here on earth. But in the age to come, those worthy of being raised from the dead will neither marry nor be given in marriage. And they will never die again. In this respect they will be like angels. They are children of God and children of the resurrection. But now, as to whether the dead will be raised-even Moses proved this when he wrote about the burning bush. Long after Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob had died, he referred to the Lord as 'the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.' So he is the God of the living, not the dead, for they are all live to him." Luke 20:27-38 (NLT)
In literature, they talk about archetypes of characters, and one of those that we find in literature as well as in scripture, is the role of what's referred to as the trickster. In our modern day understanding of a trickster, think of all of those antics between Wile E Coyote and The Road Runner and his attempts to catch him. Wile E Coyote is a typical trickster bent on tricking, deceiving, stumbling someone up causing problems in their life. They may have ill intent, like Wile E does or they may just be playful and fun and do so at other people's expense. Wile E is an example of that, but just as much as He is so as Bugs Bunny... Always playing tricks on Elmer Fudd and others. In Norse mythology. Loki is a trickster. And in the Bible, we find a number of them as well.
Foremost among those is Jacob. You may remember Jacob, he was the twin brother of Esau, and he's the one that tricked their father Isaac out of giving him his blessing. And also tricked Esau out of his rightful inheritance as the firstborn son. Jacob is also the one that had that encounter with God by night, and we're told, wrestled with God until God finally touched him in the hip and he couldn't walk, and yet he was intent on not letting God go until God gave him a blessing. That's kind of the way the tricksters work, of trying to work and manipulate situations to their benefit. I bring that up this morning because we find it also in the gospels, in much of the back and forth that we see between Jesus and the religious officials, the Pharisees and scribes, and in today's text, the Sadducees. Now, these were distinct groups within that ancient time, the Pharisees and scribes... Well, they were the practical pastors, I guess, in the temple. They're the ones that over say the everyday ordinary running of the temple and the administration of it, and they didn't like what Jesus was doing. And they constantly were coming to him with these little tricks, trying to trap Him in His words, holding up that gold coin and saying, Hey, Jesus, should we pay our taxes are not. Thinking that well, if he says yes, then he's a traitor to all of the people of Israel because he's supporting the Roman Empire, and if he says no, well, then he's a deviant that the Romans are gonna be angry at. And so they were always trying to devise these Catch-22 scenarios to trick Jesus in. Okay, Jesus, you want bad choice A or a bad choice B. And yet, Jesus always took the bait, but often Jesus said, Well, you're forgetting about choice c, which then left all of them slack jaw thinking, how do you do that? We thought we had our trap laid
In the text that we looked at this morning in chapter 20, Jesus had another run-in with the Pharisees and scribes. First in the temple, asking him, Where does your authority come from? Jesus asked them a question back and says, You tell me the answer to this question, kind of the same thing, they just done him. And they knew that there wasn't any right answer they could give that wouldn't prove them to be in the wrong. So they simply said, We don't know. And Jesus said, Fine, I'm not gonna answer you either then.
Then that question about paying taxes comes up. They showed him that coin. They said, Should we pay our taxes to Caesar or not? And Jesus says, Let me see that coin... Whose pictures on it? They said, Well, Caesar, he said, Well, give to Ceasear What belongs to Caesar, but give to God, what is God's.
Well, the Pharisees knew they had lost that battle. Now, the Pharisees and Sadducees, while they both were representative of the religious establishment of the time, while the Pharisees and scribes, as I said, oversaw the day-to-day operation, you can think more of the Sadducees as the elite. They were kind of like the academia of Judaism at that time. They were very well off, and they weren't necessarily involved in the day-to-day operation of the temple, but yet that's where often their authority derived.
And they were literalists... Forget all of this scripture. They've got five books, those five books of Moses, the Pentateuch: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy. If it's not in black and white in there, then forget it. It doesn't matter. And so in some ways, they were at odds with the Pharisees as well, 'cause they viewed things a little differently. The Pharisees interpreted in red and extended what they understood scripture to be, and there were thoughts and ideas they had that weren't written word for word in that pentateuch. For them, it didn't matter.
And so the Sadducees and Pharisees often would go back and forth as well. The Pharisees and the scribes got up, they took their swing and they missed, and so they sat down. And Sadducees, they roll their sleeves up and they say, Okay, now it's our turn. Alright, Jesus, we got stumper for ya, here it is. Moses tells us so they're quoting from the pentateuch, these are the words of Moses, Jesus. Moses wrote that if a man's brother dies and leaves a wife but no children, the man shall marry the widow and raise up children for his brother. They're quoting from Deuteronomy 25, verses 5 and 6. This says exactly that. It's called the lever right law, that basically, if a brother dies and leaves his wife a widow, the other brother is to conceive a child with her in the hopes that it would be a male, so that she would then have an heir to take care of her. To maintain property rights and that that brother that passed away, his name would continue.
But that wasn't enough to just bring this up to Jesus. They have to make it ridiculous. So suppose his brother dies and leaves a widow, and the next brother marries her, and he dies too before there's a child in the 4th and then the 6th and the 7th. Seven brothers, Jesus, every one of a marries this woman, every one of them dies and she's still without a child.
So Jesus in this resurrection, now. Mind you, resurrection is not a word that occurs in that Sadducees reject that idea of resurrection outright, and so that's really what they're getting at, that's in this question. So Jesus in this resurrection that we don't believe in and think is just all kinds of nonsense, in this resurrection that you talk about, Who will this woman be married to when she dies? Well, they're stuck in their way of thinking at that place and time in history, Jesus, this woman that's been married, all seven of these brothers who all died and now she dies in this next life that you've talked about, quite literally like a piece of property, who will she belong to?
And Jesus doesn't say, Forget it, you're being ridiculous. But he actually enters into the conversation with them, they presented him with two or more options and saying, Okay, so is it this way, is it this way? Will she be married to the first brother, we should be married to the last... What is it, Jesus? Because we don't really think any of this is true, we just wanna see what you have to say. And Jesus addresses them and says, Look, you're thinking about this all wrong. Jesus goes back to their own source, Jesus quotes Moses back to them and says, Hey, you remember Moses, you mentioned him in this question... Remember that burning bush? Pretty significant moment in his life. He mentions the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. And if he's speaking about all three of them, they didn't live simultaneously at the same time, and he's speaking of them in the present... Well then, according to God, they must still be around. So Jesus is basically saying that Moses has already demonstrated this resurrection, he puts the question back at them and says, Look, here's your answer.
But he goes a step further and says, But you're going about this all wrong. You're asking the wrong question, because you are stuck in your mindset of this life in this world that we live and how things operate... You who are well-to-do, you who have secured your own future, you who really don't need to be worried about what comes next, because life is pretty good for you right now. But you need to understand that this resurrection is indeed real, and it's a game changer. Because it will not be as it is now. He says, Your idea of people being married and needing to marry and women needing someone to own them or be in charge of them so that they're taken care of, don't come into play in this resurrection, in this life that is to come. That it will be vastly different.
Retired Methodist Bishop Will Willman says that we can summarize the Gospel in 8 words. Make sure I count them off, right? He says The gospel message is this, God will get what God wants in the end. That's not... Anyway. Something like that. That was nine. Maybe it's nine, God will get what God wants in the end. That ultimately he's saying that God's plan isn't our plan, God's plan does come to a definitive conclusion, and that conclusion is exactly the one that God desires... God's gonna get what God wants.
So we need to forget about how things operate in this world. That life isn't about what we can squeak out of it and what we can make of it, but rather it's about what God is doing and moving the world and all of us toward... Author and scholar, N. T. Wright, says that often we approach this book the wrong way, he said, This is one book that we really should read backwards, that we should flip to the very end and see what it has to say. And so, for instance, we could look in Revelation where Jesus declared, Behold, I am making all things new. Well, if that's the end of the story, that should change our understanding of everything that's going on and happening prior to and leading up to that, that in the end... Behold, I am making all things new, I'm the Alpha, the omega, the beginning in the end, the first and the last. I died and behold, I am alive forevermore. This is the one who's in charge, who's given us His Son, and despite the best efforts of the Pharisees and Sadducees, Jesus says, Oh no, let me tell you how things really are... In the end, it will be my way.
After Jesus addresses the Sadducees, we left off at the end of Verse 38. Verse 39 says, then some of the scribes, they were in the camp of the Pharisees, heard his answer and said, teacher, you have spoken well. For the Pharisees, Jesus rebuking of the Sadducees was kind of that idea of... The enemy of my enemy is my friend. And so when Jesus shuts the Sadducees down, the Pharisees are saying, Yep, there's a point, for Jesus we'll take it because it wasn't a point for them. But it then continues and says, after that, No one dared ask him another question. Sometimes we are filled with questions, sometimes the legitimate questions, sometimes they're longings and things that we wanna know: is this next life a promise God? Will I see my loved ones? Sometimes we're like the Pharisees and the Sadducees and we nitpick little things by God: why did you create mosquitoes? But we have questions that rattle around in our minds, there are times that we like the Pharisees and Sadducees wanna play trickster as well and create these convoluted hypothetical situations and say, Well, Jesus, what if this and that, and then this and then that. But it's almost as if Jesus is the greatest trickster of all. Who takes all of this effort, the human beings put forth, all of this question, all of this wrestling, all of this, looking for loopholes and ins and outs and things that we can control and be in charge of Jesus takes all of those things that we think that we have figured out to make sense of this world in this life, and he turns it upside down. Because with Jesus, it's not that this life is a catch-22. That it's not choice, A, or choice B. It's not that you're damned if you do and you're damned if you don't. It's with Jesus saying. My Father's plan will be done in me and through me and for you.
We come this day, when we look upon all these candles burning, representing loss, representing grief that many families have experienced and probably in some cases still carry. But we're reminded that each of these candles, each of these points of light represent a promise fulfilled. That this resurrection that this new life that Jesus declared and proclaimed before the Sadducees and the Pharisees and the entire world is one in which all of us have the opportunity to experience that newness, that fullness, that completeness of life, that isn't possible here and now, but thanks be to God that through his son, Jesus, in the next life it most certainly is. And that friends is no joke. And no trick. Amen.