How do we walk through shadowed valleys to emerge beside still waters, expanded and bettered and deepened by these experiences? How do we sit with and survive the seasons of darkness that beset us, or the daily darknesses that lurk just beneath the way we keep functioning as if we weren’t anxious, afraid, confused, depressed, lost, just hanging on.
The stories of Jesus speak into these things, I believe. The stories of our faith are about how to be fully human in a dehumanising world. How to be constant in choosing life, as invited by the ancient tradition into which Jesus was born. How to be constant in choosing life when the world seems ever ready to deal death in a thousand million ways big and small.
Here is how one such story goes. Jesus enters Jerusalem for the last, fateful time. He is in an unfettered frame of mind. He rides a donkey into town, mocking the power of empire. He overturns tables in the temple, scattering the power of injustice. He invokes the memory of John the Baptist, a popular revolutionary figure, threatening the elite with the power of the people.
Swirling around in the mix of revolution and revival that emanates from Jesus and his followers in this moment is the new-fangled idea of the resurrection of the dead. It was an idea that most likely came over from Persia into Northern Israel in about 200-300 BCE. It met an existential need in the people of Israel: “During the Maccabean revolt, c. 160 BCE, the question arose as to how God could allow good and righteous people who stood for God and God’s law to die violent and horrible deaths. What would God do about such a clear case of injustice? God would raise them.”
(John Petty at www.progressiveinvolvement.org)
Such staunch conservatives as the Sadducees, whom we meet in today’s story, known for protecting the status quo on all counts, could not abide this radical idea; radical because of its fundamental egalitarianism. Even projected into a coming age, an idea of justice for all could not be countenanced by the protectors of hierarchical power.
So in the story, the power keepers are doing their best to poke holes in the theory. “What about this one, Jesus, if you’re so smart and think you know something about Important Things. What can be more important than a man’s lineage? As it stands according to our Privileged Information, if a man dies and his widow marries his brother and has children by him, those children belong to the first husband thus securing for him a lineage of life beyond death. In your scheme, if she keeps marrying brother after brother, whose wife will she be when they are all resurrected together? Hm? Even you can see how ridiculous this is.”
In the hands of the Sadducees, a mighty big notion like resurrection gets whittled down to a game of “button, button, who’s got the button.”
“But who will own the wife,” they ask?
Where on Earth does such a question come from? What sort of a world seeks clarification on the finer points of people as property? A deathly, shadowed, dark one; one that kills the subjectivity of persons by making them objects and roles; means to ends. Wife. Husband. The poor. The unclean. The other.
34 Jesus said to them, ‘Those who belong to this age marry and are given in marriage; 35but those who are considered worthy of a place in that age and in the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage.
The idea of resurrection is the reassurance that we remain alive to God for who we are, as we are, no matter what. Nothing can kill off our fundamental identity as a child of God, as a subject – a person – not an object – a role.
When the 2005 tape showing Donald Trump saying atrocious things about women was released, male politicians burst out of the woodwork to denounce him. Great, except that so many of them qualified their comments on behalf of their “wives and daughters.” As even a Cosmopolitan magazine article put it, Cosmo not being known for its staunch feminist bent, “Our respect for women shouldn’t be contingent upon whether they’re someone’s wife, daughter, mother, sister, or any other familial role. Women should just be respected because we’re human.”
What we’re looking at is the reality that there are so many things that make us feel less than human, like the power games of politics – Republicans, Democrats, Sadducees, whatever.
I am interested in the idea of resurrection because it is a story of life triumphant. It tells the story in terms of life after death, but to me that is unknowable. What I know is that I could just about die everyday with how the world makes me feel but I don’t because life keeps rising up in me. Within my darkest night, you kindle a fire that never dies away; never dies away. This isn’t something knowable, either. But it is my experience.
In this story, Jesus talks about it in terms the Sadducees have to respect. He talks about the experience of Moses, told in the story of the burning bush.
37And the fact that the dead are raised Moses himself showed, in the story about the bush, where he speaks of the Lord as the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. 38Now he is God not of the dead, but of the living; for to him all of them are alive.’
I am alive, that’s all I know. And some days it feels like resurrection.