32nd Sunday of Ordinary Time
What’s the Motive Behind Our Questions?
The sects of first century Judaism were similar to the denominations in Christianity today. We probably hear the most about the Pharisees, but Sadducees (wealthy priests), Essenes (monastics), Zealots and other revolutionaries (political figures), and Jews who didn’t identify with a particular sect also figured into the makeup of the Jewish people as a whole.
In this gospel reading, it is the Sadducees who challenge Jesus. Sadducees don’t believe in the resurrection of the dead and they only accept the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Bible, as scripture. They use both beliefs to attack Jesus while he’s teaching in the temple. To discredit Him publically, they question the truth of the resurrection using an example from the Mosaic law in Deuteronomy. If a man must marry his brother’s widow and raise his brother’s children, who then is the woman married to in the afterlife? To further demean Him, the Sadducees exaggerate the example: if this were to happen seven times…Now, the Sadducees are certain they’ve made their point!
Jesus has infinite patience for those who believe in Him but still have questions, but for those whose goal is mockery, He suffers no fools. With the Sadducees’ own ammunition, the Pentateuch, the books they call sacred and know backwards and forwards, Jesus points out that Moses made the resurrection “known” (v.37). At the burning bush, God says, “I AM the God of Abraham…” (Exodus 3:6). God says “I AM” and not “I was” because Abraham, Jacob, and Isaac are still alive, even if they are no longer here on earth. Jesus further emphasizes His point, “God is not the God of the dead, but of the living, for to him all are alive” (Luke 20:38).
And with a single verse, Jesus puts the Sadducees in their place. They know it, for they respond, “You have answered well” (v.39) and temporarily slink away, tails between their legs.
At the end of this passage, I picture Jesus victorious in an arena. I don’t know whether He felt that way, but the temple probably was an area when attacks flew at Him from all sects, the people He had left his Father to lead. The leaders of the day felt they had to discredit this rabbi who challenged so much of what they stood for. True, many may have selfishly challenged Him to demonstrate their authority and keep the positions they had attained. But some may have raised questions so they could work through what they believed, the beliefs they had previously accepted as bedrock and foundational to their faith.
None of us should just accept. We are all charged to think. We aren’t charged to ridicule and to mock for our own benefit, but neither are we to take matters of faith lightly. Even Jesus warns, “See that no one deceives you” (Matt. 24:4). Nor are we to be the deceivers, mere humans who think we understand all there is to faith. If our questions are honest, real, and with the purpose to understand, Jesus is right there with us. If it’s to mock, ridicule, or for our own gain, Jesus will win every time.