The Sadducees ask Jesus a very detailed, specific question – about who a certain widow would be married to while in heaven, especially given that, on earth, she had seven different husbands.
This very specific, detailed question reminds me of the type of questions I remember hearing among some of my friends in grade-school, or was it early high school:
What will heaven be like?
Will my dog be up there?
Will I be able to eat my favourite cheese-burger?
What kind of food will we eat, if any?
What kind of bodies will we have?
Will I be able to play hockey?
Our imaginations were stirred.
I’m sure you’ve had similar discussions about the after-life among your family and friends.
And I remember, one time, on a bus trip for some school field trip somewhere, a few of us got into quite a discussion about the particularities of heaven.
I can’t remember what brought it about exactly, but here we were talking about the after-life, and what it would be like.
Someone quoted scripture referring to the golden gates and streets of heaven.
Someone expressed their doubts about it all.
Someone else wondered how different it really was going to be compared to life on earth.
I don’t know if we arrived at any conclusions, but I do recall later, how it seemed that we were getting so hung up about, and consumed by, arguing over the details of the after-life.
The Sadducees also ask Jesus a very specific, detailed question: Who would this widow – married to seven different men on earth – finally be married to while in heaven?
Now, it would seem that, on the surface, these Sadducees were engaging in an innocent, and harmless, theoretical debate or discussion, not uncommon among sages and philosophers of the day…. or high school students at the back of a bus.
After all, the Sadducees, as a sect within the Jewish religion, did not believe in any kind of after-life, whereas the Pharisees, Jesus, his disciples, and other Jews, did.
But, more was going on here. The Sadducees, along with many of the other religious leaders, were hostile to Jesus.
Jesus had already done much to upset them.
Jesus had disrupted the Temple, criticized publicly the religious establishment, and claimed to be the Messiah, earning him the label: Blasphemer.
Many of the religious leaders were already very upset with Jesus, and were seeking to destroy him.
And so, the Sadducees were asking this question in order to try to trap Jesus, to trip him up, to try to embarrass and discredit him, and make him look bad.
All with this tricky, perfinicky, specific question.
What does Jesus do?
Well, first of all, he doesn’t allow himself to be drawn into that trap.
He steers away from engaging in a small and petty argument over these details of the after-life.
In other words, he doesn’t get bogged down in the “small stuff.”
Instead, he lifts the whole conversation up to a higher level, moving it in the direction of “the big stuff.”
Jesus says, Pay attention to God, God “of the Living” not “of the dead”!
God is One who cares about Life – whether life on earth, or life in heaven, doesn’t matter.
God cares that we truly live, that we live fully, abundantly, with meaning, purpose and goodness.
God cares that we become fully alive, fully who we were meant to be.
AND, God cares that this be true, not only for ourselves – personally, individually – but also for everyone, that everyone should live abundantly, and have well-being and health.
This is The “Big Stuff.”
And isn’t this essentially what Jesus was saying was the most important Commandment of all, the one that summarized all the other commandments?
That we love God, and love neighbour, as we love ourselves.
Love brings life. Love and Abundant Life, for all.
The two most important and central dynamics of our faith, our spirituality.
How well do we think we do focussing on this “Big Stuff”?
It’s not so easy.
Bobby Orr, the famous hockey player of the 1970s who’s now retired, recently said in an interview with Peter Mansbridge, that he believes hockey today has become “over-coached”, “over-analysed”, “over-strategized” – so much so that the fun of the game has been taken out.
In other words, the “small stuff” has taken over the “big.”
He recalled, when he was a boy playing in the little leagues, his father used to tell him, moments before getting on the ice to play:
“Just get out there and have fun, and see what happens.”
Have fun, and see what happens.
The Big Stuff.
We are a distracted people, consumed by an over-abundance of information and knowledge at our finger-tips as never before in the history of the world.
It’s all too easy to get bogged down in “small stuff.”
Whether in the church, or our lives in general.
Do you remember Richard Carlson’s little book some years ago now? “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff: It’s All Small Stuff.”
Well, we all too often sweat the small stuff, in life, and in church.
WE WORRY TOO MUCH about what new carpet to get for the church, and whether or not we’d be able to afford it, (small stuff)
INSTEAD OF wondering if this is the winter we take our youth group with us to help serve those in need at Out of the Cold, or the Food Bank. (big stuff)
WE FILL OUR MINDS OBSESSING over what new car to buy, (small stuff)
INSTEAD OF taking time, in the early morning hours, every day, in quiet prayer and thanksgiving to God for all that we do have, and a renewed commitment to helping others around the world who have far less. (big stuff)
WE SPEND HOURS in the shopping mall wasting money on small stuff, (small stuff)
INSTEAD OF spending an evening hanging around our spouse and kids, building memories, giving love and attention, and establishing good relationships? (big stuff)
Loving God. Loving Neighbour. The Big Stuff. The foundational and basic dynamics of our faith. Everything else is really small.
As the father of theologian Adolf Schlatter lay dying, friends stood around his bed trying to comfort him with reassuring and pious words such as: “Soon you will be in the golden halls of Zion gazing across the crystal sea. Soon the radiance will surround you.” They intoned.
And so they talked and talked and talked, mainly comforting themselves it seemed.
Finally, the dying man raised himself up, and snapped: “Be quiet! Don’t bother me with all that talk! Just show me a picture of the Father embracing his prodigal Son. I only want to be embraced by my God.”
May that image – of God’s eternal embrace of us – fill our hearts and imagination.