Religious people have a sad reputation for arguing over trivialities. I wish I could claim it was undeserved, but too often religion has been seen as trivialising, competitive, irrelevant – and the criticism has sometimes been just.
It’s a relief, then, that when Jesus is approached by a group of Sadducees, who did not believe in the resurrection or afterlife, with a trick question about relationships in heaven, he is not distracted. Luke 20:27-38 has a basis in Deuteronomy 25:5-, regulations designed to safeguard families and their property. The Sadducees had been foiled earlier in chapter 20. Demanding to know about Jesus’ authority, they had been unable to answer his counter-question about the authority of John the Baptist. Now, they want to make Jesus, with his belief in resurrection, look silly, or simply to distract him into a pointless speculation.
Jesus gives an answer which is straightforward and helpful. Heaven will be different. People raised to eternity will have different relationships, and surely a clearer focus on God and his plans. He goes on to use the book of Exodus (part of the 1st 5 books of our Old Testament, which the Sadducees accepted as authoritative) to suggest afterlife. If God can introduce himself to Moses at the Burning Bush as “God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob”, then they must still be alive in some way. He IS their God, not WAS. It is not an argument we might have thought of, but very much in the logic of this group. (see Exodus 3)
So, can we avoid the trivial, time-wasting and meaningless? Perhaps. But will we be able to focus clearly and sympathetically on what is really relevant and important, in God’s terms? That is the challenge of Christian life in any age. Jesus is a strong example and motivation. Not only will he not be distracted in this exchange, but he will shortly go to his death. All the gospel writers make that the climax and focus of their story. Whether it will also figure in our story and conversation is a matter of daily decision, and focus.
I am grateful for Paul’s words (2 Thess 2:16f): “Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and through grace gave us eternal comfort and good hope, comfort your hearts and strengthen them in every good work and word.”