The lectionary passage for this week is about Jesus, the Sadducees and the Pharisees. What an interesting passage to read two days before a presidential election that has been fraught with hatred and lies. Sadly, it shows that human nature hasn’t really changed over the centuries. All the teaching about respect, love, peace, harmony seem to fly out of the window when some-one doesn’t think the same or supports a different candidate. I wish it was otherwise.
At the time of this story there were two main religious sects, who also wielded political power, the Pharisees and the Sadducees.
The Sadducees were the more conservative party. They were a very strong political force at high level with lots of power. They believed in only the five books containing the law of Moses. They rejected all the later inclusions, for example the book Isaiah, so denied all later beliefs like resurrection, spirits, angels. These were thought by the Sadducees to be corruptions of the true faith. Spiritually for Sadducees everything focused around the temple.
The Pharisees were the liberals. They considered themselves as representatives of the ordinary people. They accepted all of what in contemporary times Christians call the Old Testament. Their spiritually included many observances derived from various parts of their Scriptures. This included belief in an after-life.
(As a point of interest after the destruction of the temple, the Sadducees almost ceased to exist therefore present-day Judaism is derived from the teaching of the Pharisees)
So in the text today (Luke 20:27-38) the Sadducees came to Jesus to ask questions. It is clear that their motive is trickery. They cite a story of a man who died and his wife passed along to his brother, the scenario was repeated until the poor woman had been passed to all seven brothers. The trick question was, “Whose wife would she be in resurrection?” I call it a trick question because the Sadducees weren’t genuinely wanting to know the answer. They didn’t believe in resurrection! Of course, in the text Jesus refused to be drawn or tricked, merely showed that God was a God of the living.
The context too shows that this was, indeed, trickery. The stories preceding it had also been used to try and trap Jesus. Scenarios where Jesus had been asked about power and money. Jesus answered their questions well. So having failed to trap Jesus with questions about authority and economy, the Sadducees did what all good politicians do and resorted to questions about family life!
At this point I want to diverge and put on my feminist hat and consider the plight of women. The woman in this story, who I referred to as a “poor woman”, had no rights. Once again, a woman is treated and referred to as purely property. She belonged to a man and when he died she was inherited by his brother presumably with all the rest of his property. The situation kept repeating until all seven brothers had owned her. It would be easy to say that things have changed, and of course they have legally, but recent events have shown that in many circles women are still considered only as the property and playthings of men. They can be used, and abused, and it is all a joke. It is just what men say and think, there is no real harm in it. At least, that is the rhetoric, but it is not true. Much harm has been done to women through the centuries and harm is still being done to women.
So back to the Sadducees question about which brother would be with the women in an after-life. Make no mistake this is not a story about love and commitment. It is not a story about loving a person for eternity and all these men wanting to be the person chosen to share that love. This is a story about ownership and property rights. This is a story about oppression and what more emotive way to do it than asking a question about family.
I said at the beginning, that sadly, not much has changed. As I read and look around I see and hear things that confirm the truth of that. Yet, at the same time I see glimmers of hope. Maybe even more than glimmers. The recent Trump tapes brought the way women are thought of to the forefront. There was a public outcry. Courageous women came forward and spoke of the way they had been treated by men. Secrets and lies were brought into the open. That is a very good outcome. Personally, I think the release of that tape will be an instrument of change for women.
I am also thankful for a president who publicly spoke to his audience about the way an opposing supporter was addressed. He reaffirmed the values of freedom of speech and respect for all.
So I am going to end by being hopeful that things are changing. Change is always slow. I want to be part of that change. I hope Lindisfarne too will be part of that change. An inclusive community where all are welcomed without reservation.