Power

More questions for Jesus – this time, about a point of ancient law.

“Whose wife will she be?”; a dispute designed to draw attention away from the real question here.  But more on that in a moment.

First – to be clear; this is not a condemnation of re-marriage, nor is this episode an argument for some kind of “holy celibacy” because of the notion that “those who are considered worthy of a place… neither marry nor are they given in marriage.”  Jesus words are meant to challenge the image of resurrection life that these Sadducees present with their hypothetical case.  These people “say there is no resurrection”, and they try to prove their case using the law.  The law makes provision for righteousness in this life that would make for utter confusion in the “next” life.  Take that, Jesus…

‘The way we’ve always done things’, here becomes an argument against the reign of God;  these learned, faithful people are suggesting that the rules of life make the reign of God next to impossible; what you propose is too complicated, too hard to understand, too far-fetched.  Take that, Jesus…

But the real question here – the question behind this little scenario is, very familiar to us:  What is it like?  How does it work?  Explain this resurrection – this new life –  to us, Jesus, because the very idea makes no sense.

Jesus teaching, if we’re honest, is an offence to the natural order as we have come to understand it; the last shall be first – the weak shall be strong – inconceivable!  What’s more, this ‘kingdom’ that he proclaims, seems to be everywhere and no where – it is both a promise for the future and an immanent event.  God’s kingdom is one that shall never end, but it is also very near to us.   Can it be both?  What if it’s neither?  Jesus words challenge our concept of history, of tradition, of time and space.  We need something we can cling to – something concrete.  So, in Luke, an appeal is made to the law.

It doesn’t go well for the lawyers…

But this is not about divorce law…it is about power; who has it and who doesn’t; what are the limits of human power?  What are the limits of the power of the law?  What about the power of God…?

In this seemingly practical discussion, Jesus presents the utter impracticability of God; “God is God, not of the dead but of the living; for to God all of them are alive.” (Luke 20: 38) – God, it seems, does not approach these questions from an human perspective (of course not!) so human solutions draw disdain (at best) from Jesus.

The  woman in question could easily represent every woman of the time – indeed, she might represent all those who find themselves powerless; without identity unless accompanied by a husband or son; without rights because of their perceived differences; denied education, or vote; cheated by the invader, whose power is evident in force of arms and the determination to conquer.

We see this struggle far too often; at Standing Rock North Dakota; in the residue of our own Residential school atrocities.  We see it when the established culture lashes out against immigrants when jobs are scarce and political capital is at stake.  The struggle to define power and legitimize it – through cultural narrative or for political gain – is very much alive in the current American election (and in recent Canadian political maneuvering).  No one is immune from the lure of power and the desire for influence – and that includes people of faith.

In the Sadducees’ question is the troubling suggestion that powerlessness and inequality are eternal; in the resurrection, whose wife will she be?  Who will give her legitimacy in the presence of God, whose kingdom spans time…?  Jesus argues from an odd angle, but his is an argument for equality – because if God sees no difference between the living and the dead; if time cannot change God’s perception of us, then neither can gender, or race, or political affiliation, or…anything.
God’s reign – this resurrection that arouses our curiosity and causes us to act out in strange and faithful ways – is terribly impractical when considered by our limited understanding of things.  We imagine that God organizes the universe just as we do – indeed there is diversity and opposition in much of what we observe around us; male and female – strength and weakness – light and dark – good and evil  living and dead: this binary sorting comes naturally to us, and we assume that is how God works.  But God is not bound by such crude distinctions.

God’s reign, when considered from our current chaos, seems like something to be achieved only once the troubles and trials of mortal life are past.  But the resurrection of Jesus shocks us to a different awareness – the limits of time and space – life and death – have no effect on the love, mercy, justice and grace of God.  The distinctions and divisions we make for (and amongst) ourselves are not part of God’s vision for creation.

Jesus doesn’t say that we must be feminists, or freedom fighters, or social democrats, or fiscal conservatives to experience resurrection and enjoy the reign of God, but Jesus does ask us to consider the source and use of power and privilege in the world around us – to imagine what that would be like if all power and privilege was rooted in God’s own self – and then he calls us to live out the consequences of a world – a society – differently imagined.

“Who’s wife will she be?”  What will it look like?  How will power and influence be recognized?  Well, since with God, there is no distinction of time and space, between life and death, “…they neither marry nor are given in marriage…” – our crude divisions of power are eliminated; the power of God – the power of love, mercy, grace and peace – these are the things that matter.  This is the key to the kingdom

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