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Tony's Reflection 90
Do you think religion and politics should mix? On one occasion, Tony Blair wanted to end a prime ministerial speech with the line "God bless Britain", but was persuaded out of it by aides. As Mr Blair recalls, "One of the civil servants said in a very po-faced way 'I just remind you prime minister, this is not America' in this very disapproving tone, so I gave up the idea.”
Some foreigners find it amazing that, despite British open-mindedness, we are often reticent to talk about either religion or politics in polite conversation.
As Jesus was being challenged in the temple, he had to handle tough questions on both. In last week’s episode, we saw him asked one on politics. Now, it’s time for one on religion (
The Sadducees had been lu
rking at the back of the crowd, so far. They were the ruling elite in the temple. All the splendour of the sanctuary, the bustling busyness, the pomp and pageantry of pilgrimage, all this was their turf.
They had just watched the Pharisees and Herodians doing their utmost to trap Jesus, with their question on politics. They despised both Pharisee and Herodian. The Pharisees had a vulgar religious zeal; they were commoners, almost as uneducated and ignorant as this Galilean peasant who they were failing to nail down. Herodians? Worldly politicians. Hopelessly compromised.
There was only one person they loathed more than Pharisee and Herodian. The carpenter.
The Sadducees made their way forwards, towards their target. They would show the riffraff how it was done. They would be the ones to put the Galilean publicly in his place. The crowd respectfully parts, as the Sadducee priests, splendid in their robes, surround their prey.
The carpenter had no theological education. No class. No refinement. Their sophistry, the razor-sharp cut of their argument, would leave him in shreds. They would expose the Galilean for the country simpleton he surely was.
They have Jesus down as someone who believes in the resurrection of the dead. Corpses walking around alive again? Dismembered and decayed bodies made whole? A crass belief of the masses, including the Pharisees. How could anyone believe such gross fairytales?
Ridiculous. Too stupid for words.
They resort to a clever debating technique. Surely far too sophisticated for the carpenter to handle. “Reductio ad absurdum” - the Galilean wouldn’t even know what that meant, let alone how to answer their deviously plotted subtlety. They spin a tale - an unlikely one, to expose the fairytale nature of believing in bodily resurrection.
“Imagine this…” the Sadducee spokesman spins his story with great aplomb, relishing his own craftiness at laying bare the sheer folly of the ignorant masses who believe in bodily resurrection.
“A woman marries a man and he dies before they have had children. In line with Jewish law, the man’s brother takes the widow as his wife, in an effort to produce offspring. He dies childless as well. The woman goes through every male sibling of her two dead husbands, marrying each, a further five in all, but she outlives each one and each one dies childless.”
Nose aloof in the air with superiority, peering down disdainfully at the unlettered, unlearned carpenter, the Sadducee delivers his knockout question with a final flourish:
“At the “resurrection””, the Sadducee can barely bring himself to say that distasteful word, “whose wife will she be? Which of the seven brothers will be her husband?”
The Sadducee pauses, soaking up the admiration from the crowd at his cleverness. Pharisees splutter with indignation, glad they didn’t have to answer that one. Peter wants to punch the Sadducee on the nose, but just about holds back. Jesus wouldn’t approve that kind of answer.
Jesus is totally unruffled. He smiles calmly. Father God has given him an answer.
“You are wrong, because you don’t know God’s power and you don’t know your Bible, either.”
No one can believe what they are hearing. The carpenter giving the professor priests a lesson in theology? A sharp gasp ripples around the crowd at this audacity. Telling the priests, who spent their whole lives teaching others the Scripture, that they didn’t know their Bibles, or God?
Peter smirks. They certainly didn’t know the God-power he had seen, with his own eyes, when Jesus raised Jairus’ daughter from the dead.
Jesus rams home his point, quoting at the Sadducees one of their own favourite Scriptures: “God said, “I am the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.” He said this after they had died. How can he still be their God, if they are dead? No, they are still alive. Resurrected. Marriage is fine for earth, but there is far better for us in heaven.”
Sadducees stand speechless.
The crowd are rapt, full of wonder. They had never seen the resurrection in Scripture that clearly. Jesus had put it so simply. It was obvious. There for all to see. Scripture has shaped Jesus’ every thought. Its truth flows so naturally from him, like a life-giving fountain.
Their minds are full of the splendours of heaven. The amazing realities, beyond imagining, which God has ready and waiting for all who died trusting him.
How does the carpenter speak so clearly and powerfully about these things? It is as if he has been there himself, or seen them already.