Sunday, November 10, 2013

The Black Widow Widow and the Hermeneutic of Resurrection: Wherein I Probably Piss Off Some Biblical Literalists, and Propose that We Read the Bible - and Our Lives - Like Jesus Does   

look! I have a face:

Luke 20:27-40

27 Some Sadducees, those who say there is no resurrection, came to him 28and asked him a question, ‘Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies, leaving a wife but no children, the man* shall marry the widow and raise up children for his brother. 29Now there were seven brothers; the first married, and died childless; 30then the second 31and the third married her, and so in the same way all seven died childless. 32Finally the woman also died. 33In the resurrection, therefore, whose wife will the woman be? For the seven had married her.’
34 Jesus said to them, ‘Those who belong to this age marry and are given in marriage; 35but those who are considered worthy of a place in that age and in the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage. 36Indeed they cannot die any more, because they are like angels and are children of God, being children of the resurrection. 37And the fact that the dead are raised Moses himself showed, in the story about the bush, where he speaks of the Lord as the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. 38Now he is God not of the dead, but of the living; for to him all of them are alive.’ 39Then some of the scribes answered, ‘Teacher, you have spoken well.’ 40For they no longer dared to ask him another question.

Ok. Don’t tell anyone. But I have a confession. Sometimes I wish that I could go back in time to those days when marriage was simple. You know, those days when I’d welcome Dan home with a ham in the oven - one of those hams with the pineapple rings and maraschino cherries all over it, and I’d have all the laundry done, and I’d iron the sheets and we’d have a jello mold for dessert. I’d have one of those aprons on with the flowers and the ruffles and I’d have perfectly manicured nails, and my hair would be set and I’d wear petticoats, and simply revel in being Mrs. Daniel Griggs.
Ahh. Can you see it?

Then, we wouldn’t be struggling about whose career we should follow.  Then, only one of us would be exhausted and at our wit’s end caring for our two boys. Then, we wouldn’t end the day in complete exhaustion, too tired to even talk to each other, too tired to work through the things we need to work through, too discouraged to get through all the things we have to get through in order to come to a compromise about where we should live, whose job should take priority, whose passions we should follow.

Our identities would have been perfectly defined for us, even our desires and needs defined in terms of these outside influences and societal expectations. We’d have no questions. No conflicts. I’d be at home, caring for the children and making bundt cakes, and Dan would go to work from 9-5 in his giant Cadillac and starched suit.

Easy, right?

This is what is so attractive, I think, for the Sadducees - having clear lines, clearly delineated, to map out for them this thing called life.

The Sadducees believe in the written Torah - and nothing outside of that. The Torah is often called “The First Five Books of Moses” - those first five books of our Old Testament. So the Sadducees didn’t believe that there was an oral law, or prophets, or writings - they rejected every aspect of Jewish tradition and law and belief except what was found in the first five books of Moses.

They have the answers. All conveniently wrapped up in the scrolls of those Five books. Anything outside of that is simply not true:
There is no afterlife.
We should follow the laws of God here and now.
There are no angels
There is no Fate.

Simple. Easy. Defined.
Like those bumper stickers that say, “God said it, I believe it, that settles it.” The “Torah says it, I believe it, that settles it”

Until. Until we get to this riddle. This riddle of “the black widow” - or “the woman with the worst luck ever.”

The Sadducees come to Jesus with this puzzle - they want to trick Jesus- but they have no idea what they’re getting in to. They don’t seem to have a clue that the question they ask is going to shake the very foundation of their easy, defined, Torah-focused world. 

“So,” they say, “See, there’s this woman. And she’s got this husband. And no kids. And the husband dies. And now she’s a big nobody. A widow. No husband. No kids. No family. No identity. Isn’t it great that we have this rule, this law, this “Levirate marriage” that says that if her husband dies, -- the guy who gives her worth and dignity and value, -- isn’t it great that it’s the rule that his brother has to marry her so that she once again has worth and dignity and value? She won’t be left in the cold! She will have a last name! She’ll get another chance for babies!
It’s so great, right?!”

Ok. Maybe it’s a better situation for these widows than the alternative - which would consist of being left out on the streets, alone, penniless. But it still treats this woman as valueless property, unless she has a husband and children.

But then.
The brother dies too. And the next one. And the next one. And the next one. And the one after that. And then one more.

I’m starting to wonder about this woman...

Ok. So I know that this is a hypothetical situation. I know that this is a riddle, and isn’t really real, and it’s just a trap that the Sadducees want to set for Jesus to get him to accept that they are right and he is wrong - They just want to prove that there is no resurrection, there is no fate or angels or anything beyond right here, right now, and all the rules that God has given us. So they don’t think about the woman as a person. But even in the “real world,” they don’t think about this woman as a person. They don’t really think of this woman at all.

A fancy word for how someone looks at something is his or her “hermeneutic.” That’s a person’s lens with which to look at the world.
The Sadducees are functioning under the hermeneutic of “God said it, I believe it, that does it.” They approach the Hebrew Scriptures simply at face value. God/The Torah said it. I believe it. That does it. The end.They are living under a defined set of expectations and clearly delineated lines and boxes and walls and simple answers. And so they want an answer that fits in these lines, in these parameters.

But if we look at the answer that Jesus gives, we not only see that Jesus sees the woman differently than these Sadducees, but he also functions in the world under an entirely different hermeneutic - an entirely different set of assumptions and values and parameters.

Jesus is functioning under an entirely different hermeneutic.  He doesn’t see harsh borders and narrow binaries. Jesus is functioning under a hermeneutic of sight. Jesus sees.

Ireneus - one of the earliest Christian theologians - said that the “glory of God is a human being, fully alive.” And if Jesus is the fullest expression of the glory of God, then he is a human being, fully alive, and he sees humans, fully alive.
Jesus sees the human being, fully alive.
This is a hermeneutic of resurrection. The human being, fully alive. The God of the living, fully alive.
For Jesus, it isn’t “God said it, I believe it, that does it.” For Jesus, it’s “you are a child of God, beloved of God, whether you believe it or not, and that’s how I’m going to read the scriptures. That’s  how I’m going to look at this riddle. That’s how I’m going to see this woman - even this hypothetical woman, in this hypothetical situation, meant to trip me up and catch me in a lie or a heresy -- no -- I am going to see this woman as a person, full of personhood, and I’m going to make sure you all know that there is no property in heaven,  no contingencies of value, no hairsplitting or parsing or layers and layers of theological interpretation.

With a hermeneutic of resurrection, there are no transactions. Only transformations. Maybe transactions are how this world works, this world with its definitions and lines and divisions and clear expectations. But in God’s world, in God’s kingdom, this woman is a child of God. Period. Not because she has a husband. Not because she had children. Not because she was educated, or believed a certain way, or was liberated and had a PhD or hyphenated her name or was in an egalitarian relationship with her husband where they shared the work equally and they talked through their disagreements and made perfect compromises. No. She is a child of God. In the resurrection, she is a human being. Fully alive. The glory of God.

The Sadducees ask, “who owns this woman?  To whom does she belong?”
And Jesus answers, “in the kingdom of God, no one owns her. She is not a slave or a piece of property or a walking womb through which to advance her husband’s name and continue his lineage. She is not a bearer of children. She is a child herself. An expression of my glory.”

This is huge.  This passage isn’t just telling us that Jesus is a sly fox in a debate. This passage isn’t just telling us that Jesus is great at interpreting the scriptures. This passage shows us how Jesus reads the scriptures.  This passage shows us how Jesus looks at the world.

Jesus doesn’t use the scriptures as proof-texts to launch at the Sadducees. Shooting another scripture bomb over enemy lines, waiting for the destruction. Jesus doesn’t read scripture that way. And he doesn’t read our lives that way.

Can you see this? The order of things is HUGE. Jesus reads and interprets the scriptures with the mind wholly and firstly focused on the hermeneutic of the resurrection - and because of this, he is wholly and firstly focused on the intrinsic value of this woman. He doesn’t need a proof text for this. He doesn’t need a concordance or a commentary or a Biblical index. He doesn’t throw another bomb back. He simply disarms the Sadducees with his hermeneutic of resurrection.

“See Sadducees,” he says, “- and anyone else who thinks that God can be contained in a few words or a few beliefs or in a bunch of church buildings --You’ve got it wrong. It’s not “God said it, I believe it, that does it.””
He says, “This woman is of value. See how the scriptures attest to this? That does it.” But. The woman’s value comes first. The woman’s value comes first because of who God is -- God is the God of the living, not of the dead. The woman’s value comes first because in the resurrection, she is a fully human, fully alive, fully resurrected and no pawn in an elite community’s riddle games. God says, “She’s no one’s husband; she is my child.”

And he illustrates this - not through lobbing another verse from the trenches -- only through story - “You know, the one about the bush” he says. - The story where God reveals God’s very self to Moses through the burning bush - where God gives God’s very name. The one where God says, “I am who I am.” The Hebrew says,  אֶֽהְיֶ֖ה אֲשֶׁ֣ר אֶֽהְיֶ֑ה, “I am who I am,” which could also be translated, “I will be who I will be”-- not “this is what I think, or what you should believe, or write this down right now and then spit it back out to me later to prove how much you believe in me, for follow these laws and everything will be hunky dory.” I am the God whose name is a verb - “Am” - a verb of being - I am alive and doing and living and being. I am the God who is alive. The God of the living. I AM.
Jesus reminds us of the story where God reveals God’s very self. And then Jesus becomes that story.

Resurrection is about the glory of God. And resurrection is about personhood. Not right beliefs. Or scripture bombs. Or clearly delineated lines of definitions and expectations and societal structures.

And that is so messy.
But that’s the Gospel.

Jesus reminds the Sadducees - all of us - that it’s not about rules or riddles or splitting hairs to figure out who’s married to whom in the resurrection.
This passage isn’t really about will I or won’t I be married in the afterlife. It doesn’t get me out of reconciling with Dan when we have an argument because, “why would it matter, we won’t be married any way!”

This passage is about the hermeneutic of resurrection.

God says, “I am. She is. You are. That’s it.”


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