Today’s gospel is set in Jerusalem, just a few days before the Passover. It’s just a few days before the arrest and trial. Jesus’ time is drawing to an end. The time with him is very short and very precious.
Some Sadducees come to see him. By this time, everyone in Judah knows who Jesus is: miracle worker, famous healer, wise man, the one who raised the girl from the dead, the one who threw out the money changers, the one who came into the city with the people shouting and waving. Some say he’s the next Moses, some say Elijah, some say he’s the Messiah.
So here are these Sadducees, learned men who are members of the branch of Judaism that does not believe in a resurrection after death. These Sadducees finally get to encounter Jesus. This is their moment--this is their time in the sun. Yet, this is what they say: Teacher, if seven brothers die in succession and each marries the same woman, one after another, to whom is she married in heaven?
Excuse me? Here they are before the Christ--the Anointed One--and this is the best they can do?
There is a Jewish saying that says, “Rake the muck this way; rake the muck that way. It’s still muck. Meanwhile we could be stringing pearls for heaven.”
How often do we waste our time raking the muck instead of stringing pearls for heaven? How often do we waste our time playing word games instead of seeing the Christ right in front of us?
There’s a character in one of Saul Bellow’s novels who says, “I had boasted…how had I loved reality. But…unreality. Unreality, unreality! That has been my scheme for a troubled…life.” Well, let us ask ourselves if that is our scheme as well? Do we avoid the reality of questions that matter?
Karl Barth, the great 20th Century theologian, once said: “The Bible gives to every [person] and to every era answers to their questions as they deserve. We shall always find in it as much as we seek and no more.” Do we use our questions to keep Jesus at arms’ length? Do we only seek to play Trivial Pursuit? Are we afraid of encountering the living Christ because we really don’t want him in our lives?
It’s clear in the gospels that Jesus has no time for those who merely want to play games. He has no patience with those who merely want to trick him or to use him to prove how smart or righteous or perfect they are. Usually those who waste his time don’t come off very well--indeed, after this exchange, Luke writes, “They no longer dared to ask him another question.”
However, Jesus always has time for questions that are real. He always has time for those who are stringing pearls for heaven. Because the questions deep in our hearts are what lead us to be in relation to him.
Jesus always has time for questions like this:
”¢ Can you heal my child?
”¢ I have a demon that torments me and I can find no rest. Can you help me?
”¢ I have lost my way to the circle of life. Can you bring me back?
”¢ No one will come near me--because they say I am unclean. Do you love someone like me?
When people offer these questions to Jesus, the answer he gives is not a slogan or a sound bite. The answer he gives is himself. When the Sadducees or the Pharisees ask Jesus their trick questions, they usually get parables: stories that will puzzle their minds and invite them to look at the world in a new way. But when women and men bring Jesus their deepest yearnings, he doesn’t talk to them; he engages them. When genuine people come to him with genuine questions, he often doesn’t say anything, but he touches, he encounters, he relates. He invites people to journey with him on the Way.
The Latin root of the word “question” means “to seek.” It’s where we get the word “quest.” To ask a real question is to enter on a journey; it’s to begin traveling on The Way. Jesus gets exasperated with the Sadducees simply because they aren’t willing to leave the station. They just want to play games and stay right where they are. They aren’t right or wrong; they are just wasting their life. They are just raking the muck.
Remember Rainer Maria Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet? An aspiring poet from America wrote the famous poet Rilke in Germany with questions about his art. In one of his replies, Rilke writes, “Love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language….Live the questions now. Perhaps then someday far in the future, you will gradually...live your way into the answer.”
Our deepest questions don’t have simple answers. Instead they are doors to walk through. Jesus says, “I am the Way” because with him and through him we live our way into answers.
So let us take heart. Today is the day Jesus has come to the city; today is the day Jesus has come to our city. The time is short, but it is our time. Time to bring our deepest questions to Him--the questions for which we want a new answer, like:
”¢ Does God love me?
”¢ Are we alone?
”¢ Can people find Shalom?
The Sadducees cannot ask these questions because they think they already know the answers. Real questions are doorways to the journey to newness. We ask Jesus these questions because he is who he is. Jesus is the door to newness; he is the Way to new life. He invites us to think of a new world: a world where the old rules do not apply. He invites the Sadducees to lay aside their stupid questions and think of a new world in which the living and the dead are connected.
So now is the time. Do not think about what we can do but about what God can do. Remember what he said? Ask and you will receive. How can we receive if we never ask?
Let us pray.
Gracious God, increase our faith so that we might bring our deepest desires and our most ardent questions to you. Help us to trust in your never failing mercy so that you might draw us deeper and deeper into relation to you. In all that we do, and in all that we are, help us to remember how much you love us. We ask this in the name of our Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.