The proper contexts for talking about Jesus and resurrection are now set. We know Jesus died in a shameful fashion. He died in a way no leader, no world ruler, and no person of long lasting importance ever would. We know about the two competing views of Jewish scriptures that deal with foreign occupiers, and propose resurrection as the ultimate, concluding argument of G-d against “the nations”. And we know a little bit more about the political groups competing for allegiance, and we know how they formed their beliefs about resurrection in light of their beliefs about how to deal with Rome. We now look at Jesus. How did Jesus propose to deal with Rome? How did Jesus’ view of who the “true Israel” was in the face of the foreign occupation affect his understanding and the understanding of his followers about the resurrection?
First, we turn to Jesus’ interaction with the Sadducees and the question about the resurrection. The passage in question is Matthew 22.23-33. The Sadducees press a question onto Jesus that clearly alludes to the story I told from 2 Maccabees. Seven
brothers die, and in the end, they resurrect. At the end of the story, Jesus completely fools them. The finer points about understanding exactly how Jesus wins the argument must be unsaid. In the story, everyone listens in astonishment to Jesus’ response. What we glean from this is that Jesus’ politics of the resurrection do not derive from that story in 2 Maccabees. We can see this in how Jesus responds. He does not affirm the Maccabees story as proof of the resurrection. Instead, he quotes Exodus to show G-d’s resurrecting power.
Directly after this story, the Pharisees confront Jesus. This might be one of the most well known scenes in Matthew since in it Jesus indicates the two most important commandments. The Pharisees and Sadducees were not friends. When the Pharisees hear Jesus silenced their opponents, they congregated in order to find out if he was on their side. He silences them, too. The scene ends with everyone astounded and afraid to question Jesus. He proceeds to launch into a long diatribe about judgment and parables about the need to be watchful for the end times. Dead center of that pontification is a quote from Daniel 7 concerning the coming of the “Son of Man”.
Jesus, naturally, brought a different message than did the Pharisees or the Sadducees. What was that message? How did it differ from the others? These are questions I will address in later posts, but now, I want to conclude with the difficult work of self examination.
Many of us fall into categories other than disciples. What all the 1st century Jewish groups held in common was national restoration. They sought to restore their national identity. How many of us do this? We seek to restore our national identity, and we attempt to create it in the image of what we think G-d wants. Some think we need to let the world do what the world does, but we will practice strict Bible observance. We will let the world fall where it might, but our living out the biblical rules will vindicate us in the end. These are the Pharisees. Some of us think we must go around trying to force everyone to follow the Bible properly. These people coerce others into obeying their interpretation of the
Bible just like the zealots did. Mennonites really never struggled with this one, but many Christians do. Christians become Sadducees. They stress religious, cultic observance. These folks complain about how little people attend church or tithe. Still, more importantly, all these groups seek to restore national identity through good discipleship. From Pat Robertson to Jim Wallis, Christianity Today and Sojourners, from the far right to the far left, the Christians in this country in particular
believe that when the proper way of following G-d is lived out the nation will return to its former glory and the righteous American Christians will be vindicated. Of course, this is exactly what Jesus’ opponents believed. They thought surely Israel would be vindicated before G-d, and those within Israel who did it properly would enjoy the final vindication. Do you do this? Do you seek to follow rigorous interpretations of the Bible? Do you deny the resurrection because you cooperate so closely with the empire? Do you separate yourself from everything in the world so that you remain pure from its sinfulness? These were the opponents of Jesus. What was the Jesus alternative? How did Jesus and the disciples see all this differently? As you reflect on your own path toward discipleship, you must wait until we discuss how Jesus and his resurrection blew open every other worldview and vindicated Jesus in the way all the others believed they would be vindicated in the end.