Twenty-second Sunday after Pentecost – November 10, 2019 – Luke 20:27-38 – Trinity, Winchester
Throughout Luke chapter 20 Jesus has been at the Temple in Jerusalem contending with all sorts of folks. Today he’s talking with the Sadducees, who we are told do not believe in the resurrection of the dead.
They ask Jesus about resurrection using an example. “If a man’s brother dies, leaving a wife but no children, the man shall marry the widow and raise up children for his brother.” If there were seven brothers, they ask, and each of them married the woman, but all died childless, who’s wife will she be in heaven?
The question is complicated. At its core it’s about resurrection, but it also brings up the notion of levirate marriage, the practice by which an ancient Hebrew man was compelled to marry his brother’s widow and to have children with her in his brother’s name.
This component of the Mosaic law might seem odd to us. Lest we are tempted to judge this practice based on the norms of our own day, we should recognize that the law is not without virtue.
Hebrew law provided for levirate marriage for the care and protection of widows at a time when the larger society shunned them. This law is a sign of God’s grace, protecting those who otherwise would have been left with nothing.
However, even as we recognize the law’s implicit grace, I think we can still critique it. Grace-filled though it may be, we cannot ignore the patriarchal nature of this practice.
The custom of levirate marriage assumes that men have a certain amount of ownership of women. A woman’s survival in this ancient near-eastern society required a relationship with a man and the bearing of his children.
I bring this up because even two-thousand years later, while the position of women in our society has certainly evolved, it isn’t necessarily where it needs to be.
There are several ways in which men still claim ownership of women’s bodies: unwanted sexual advances, inappropriate jokes, slanderous gossip, and even legislation. Consciously or unconsciously, there is some element of control that men in our society simply are not prepared to let women have.
In light of this, what is our response as faithful Christians? Well, I think the answer lies in the core component of the Sadducee’s question: resurrection. What do we believe about resurrection? It’s a complex question, but one that is central to our Christian faith.
Each week we proclaim, “On the third day he rose again” and “We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come.”
Today’s Gospel reminds us that resurrection has not always been a given. Even today Christians argue about what resurrection really means. Some say that an explicit belief in a real bodily resurrection is the mark of a true Christian.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, some challenge the idea of the physical resurrection, seeing it more as a metaphor for our the daily rejuvenation in the world.
Others find themselves somewhere in between. (This is where you can typically find Anglicans . . . in between.) We will never have absolute proof of Jesus’ bodily resurrection, but we are committed to living our lives everyday as if it is possible, because by faith we believe it to be so.
Jesus’ death and resurrection would not have been possible without his incarnation. In the incarnation God became human so that all humankind might be redeemed.
In so doing, God showed us that flesh matters. Even we, in our human state, are worthy of God’s love. Even we, in our human state, share in Jesus’ death and resurrection. That resurrection chiefly reminds us that the way things always have been need not be the way they always will be.
And so we go about our work in the world as redeemed agents of God’s transformative love, bringing signs of life to a world filled with sin and death. It is our duty to pay attention to our present realities, such as the treatment of women, and whenever we encounter those realities as signs of death, we must work to bring about new life.
How do we do that? It starts with the way we treat one another. Remember, flesh matters. Everyone is worthy of being treated with dignity and respect.
For a specific example we need to look no further than those who walk beside us and those who have gone before us. Of course, friends, I’m thinking about Butch Janey. We lost Butch on Tuesday night, but we know he is with us still.
I hadn’t known Butch for 45 minutes when, as we sat chatting on his front porch, he mentioned the women of Blue Monarch. If you are unaware, Blue Monarch is a local organization that assists women and their children who struggle with addiction, domestic violence, and economic inequality.
Butch talked with pride and joy about the work of the organization, and especially the courage of the women there who fight so hard to overcome their struggles.
“I can’t do much,” Butch said, “But I write them letters. We go back and forth. Maybe I’ll slip a $20 bill in from time to time. Their courage gives me hope, and I just want them to know they have my support, and God’s support, too.”
Friends, that’s resurrection. Butch knew it then. Now, he knows it even better. And by God’s grace, so will you.