A few years ago a parent that I met in my travels started talking to me about how her son was doing horribly in school. He was being mean to others, others were being mean to him in retaliation, and he would be sent to the principal’s office almost on a daily basis. And of course, his grades suffered as a result.
As I sat with this woman and listened to her plight, she said something that shocked me and will remain with me forever. While I thought she was bothered by the situation, she ended up just completely brushing it off and saying, “it doesn’t matter what he learns in this life, all that matters is what he learns in the next life.”
My jaw dropped.
My first thought was no wonder he’s doing poorly in school. Then my second thought was she knew that I’m a pastor, so was she just saying this to sound extra spiritual and/or faithful? But with what she just told me about her kid, I actually think she really believed it. Deep down, she totally thought that this life, as in this life we are living right now, didn’t matter at all. Rather, all that mattered was the life in heaven after we die. So I have a feeling that this philosophy translated a bit in her parenting, in that she didn’t care that her kid was doing so poorly in school and wasn’t even going to bother to do anything about it.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that the afterlife isn’t important or that it doesn’t matter or even that believing in it too strongly will make you a bad parent. I’m just saying that I’m pretty sure that this life matters too, and probably even more than whatever afterlife you might believe in, simply because this life is now and real and tangible. This life matters.
The story that we get today in the gospel lesson touches on this as well. This group of Sadducees, which are different from the Pharisees, in that the Pharisees just aren’t fair you see, but the Sadducees are just sad you see. Actually, the difference between the two came down to their theology and interpretation of scripture. The Pharisees had a degree of latitude in interpreting their scriptures, namely the Torah, or the first 5 books of our bibles, and the Sadducees took a very literal approach. So while these two groups didn’t get along very well, neither of them were really fans of Jesus and his teachings.
One such teaching as we see in this story was around the resurrection. This group of Sadducees didn’t think that any kind of resurrection was possible, in that they couldn’t see how life would or could just continue on after one has died. So they came up with a way to trap Jesus into looking like an uneducated fool.
Although, it wasn’t much of a trap. It was kind of like those questions people ask in attempts to poke holes in the Christian faith, like ‘how can a good God allow bad things to happen,’ or ‘can God create a rock so big that even God couldn’t lift it?’ or “is Kanye West really saved?’ These questions can be asked from a real innocent place of genuine wonder and interest, but in my opinion these kinds of questions unfortunately miss the point.
The Sadducees came up with what was a familiar scenario at the time, a widow without a son having to marry her late husband’s brother to carry on the family name. But if that widow were legally married 7 times because there was just that much death and that many brothers, then who would she be married to in the afterlife? I admit, it would be comical to see 7 brothers fighting over the same woman, but I can’t see how this disproves any kind of resurrection, which was their goal in bring up such an absurd question.
Jesus’ answer here is debated by many scholars, some saying it’s proof of an afterlife, some saying it’s proof only of resurrection which is slightly different from an afterlife, and some say that it’s just another one of those crazy things that Jesus says that we won’t fully understand until we’ve studied everything there is to study on the matter or when we are dead and can ask God face to face.
But I think Jesus’ response here does two things: the first is that he is telling the Sadducees that women are not just property to be fought over or debated over in terms of ownership, but that the full equality between gender and ethnicity must be realised. And the second thing I think Jesus is trying to teach the Sadducees here is that them trying to trap Jesus and his resurrection promises is really just missing the point.
I mean, when Jesus speaks of resurrection, does that necessarily mean an afterlife? For in my experience so far, there hasn’t been any kind of proof of afterlife, but I’ve experienced a LOT of resurrection. Resurrection in that I’ve seen and felt healing and peace in the midst of brokenness, love and redemption in the midst of hate, joy and life in the midst of death. That all isn’t an afterlife per se, but it is resurrection. Resurrection in this life, in this time, among the living. So that tells me that this life matters.
And Jesus is very clear, God is the God of the living, for to God, all the saints are alive. God cares about the living, about us, in the here and now and has provided us a way to live this life the very best we can. God is deeply interested in this life, otherwise we wouldn’t have all the stories and promises of healing, redemption, and community. This life matters.
But then that begs the question, what is life? As I’ve said before, the life that truly is life as described to us numerous times in the bible is one that is full of grace, love, and relationship. The life that truly is life is about the here and now and how we treat others and how we in turn are treated. The life that truly is life is this life on this earth and let me tell you, it matters.
So that mom who has that son who is acting up in school? That matters as it affects other students and his teachers. It matters because it affects his future and his ability to live in community. It matters because that child is a child of God here and now, full of value and worth and deeply loved and filled with potential.
He matters. His mom matters. We all matter. Not because of anything we have done, mind you, but solely because God wills it so. Our lives, our relationships, our regard for God and each other, all of it, we are deeply connected to one another, through the grace of God joining us together as the body of Christ. And knowing that this life that truly is life could extend beyond the grave and our own mortality should tell us just how much our lives in there here and now matter as it could affect more than we may have thought or even imagined.
What a gift this is that God has given us, a gift of this life, a gift of the overarching love and grace that saves us, a gift of resurrection which breathes in us the Spirit that reaches out through us and extend to others, allowing them to see in turn that they too, matter.
As we approach the end of this time after Pentecost and church year, may we look back on all we’ve learned about Christ and the church, and grasp onto the life that truly is life for all its promises, blessings, and eternal value by the power of the Spirit. Thanks be to God. Amen.