Lectionary 32C (Nov 10, 2019)

Job and Luke. Two books. Two questions.

            Job questions God. We’re not sure what Job wants. Job’s obviously upset. We’ll get to details, presently. He wants his complaints written for posterity. Then he says he knows that his Redeemer lives, and that after Job dies, he will see God. What we don’t know—and what I’m not sure Job knows—is if the Redeemer and God are the same person. It’s possible Job is saying, “Eventually, God will come be on my side, and will vindicate me.” It’s also possible Job is saying, “Eventually, my Vindicator will come, and when God shows up my Vindicator is going to give God the once over.” There are problems with both translations. And, when you’re suffering deeply and trying to trust God you can be simultaneously angry with God and begging God for help. You’re not sure what you want. So, I think maybe Job is not sure what he wants.

            The Sadducees in today’s gospel are sure what they want. They want to prove Jesus wrong. Their question is not serious. It’s the kind of jerk question I would’ve asked as a teenager. “Who is she married to in the ‘resurrection’?” To the Sadducees, “resurrection” is a new and silly idea. Sadducees are trying to preserve their faith tradition, and in much of the Old Testament period people understood this life to be all that there is. You live under God now, then you die. Maybe you go to an underworld, but you don’t do anything there. So, to the Sadducees, the idea that God would raise the dead is not biblical, not true. There are limits on life. God acts the way God says God will according to the Torah, the Law.

            It is the Torah that poses the problem for Job. According to the book, Job is righteous, blameless, loves and fears God, never does an evil thing. According to Torah, he should be okay. He should prosper, have tons of kids, big house, farm animals, camels, servants, everything. And he does at the start of the story. Then it all goes away. He loses his children, his animals, his servants, and his health. He didn’t do anything to cause this. Under God’s Law, this should not happen. It’s not just. As Job understands it, God has failed to uphold God’s end of the Torah. For Job, the Torah limits God. It says, “God cannot allow this because I have done that.”

            The Sadducees similarly see Torah limiting God by saying this is the way God will act. They may not understand that about themselves. They just want to expose Jesus as a religious nut and get rid of him. But Jesus understands that they’re limiting God. If we look closely at what they say, we can see what Jesus sees. They’re referring to “levirate marriage.” In OT Hebrew culture, men live on through their male descendants. Women exist to keep her going. If your brother dies, married but without a son, you marry his widow and try to produce a son for your dead brother. Already married? Not a problem. Polygamy is okay. By Jesus’ day, polygamy was frowned upon. It was still in the books. And the Sadducees do not seem to have a problem with it at least in theory.

            In their hypothetical case, one woman and seven men rise from the dead. She can’t possibly be married to all of them, because that’s polyandry, and that’s downright silly. Their argument is that belief in the resurrection is silly because if resurrection exists this woman would have multiple husbands, which is ridiculous, unlike a man having multiple wives, which is totally fine. You see what Jesus is seeing? There is a gender division, a gender inequality. And I am further convinced that this is what he sees because of his counterargument: “You idiots; people living in the resurrection are like angels.” He does not mean they’re sweet. Hebrew tradition says angels have no gender. When the angel Gabriel is talking to the Virgin Mary, is Gabriel a man or a woman? No. They’re an angel. Jesus does not have our twenty-first century ideas on gender, so, I’m not saying Jesus does. Jesus is throwing out the gender divisions of his day, though. He’s saying, “Yeah, my followers are beyond gender.”

            Now, why? Why throw out gender divisions in this argument of all things? It’s not just because Jesus thinks all people are equal (though he does). It’s because the Sadducees’ gender divisions have limited God. They’re saying God cannot make this situation work. Their thinking comes from scarcity: there is not enough, not even enough God. Levirate marriage. Why? Not enough sons. No resurrection for the eight people in the story. Why? Not enough women to go around in that example. They cannot see a world in which God provides. They’re using Torah to guard scarce resources. That is not what God is about. God does not see scarcity.

            God sees abundance. God creates abundance. Jesus does not see, “Who will be this woman’s husband?” He sees eight resurrected children of God. Jesus does not see Torah guarding scarce resources. He sees in Torah the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob calling Moses to free Israel from Slavery. Jesus does not see limits on God. He sees God working in the world, all the time, even now. How does Jesus describe the resurrection? In the present tense! “Those who are in the resurrection.” “They are like angels and are Children of God.” This age and the resurrection overlap. Our scarcity and God’s abundance overlap. When we’re living in abundance—in the resurrection—God is God, and everything flows from that. We are children of God who knows no limit. How can God allow a resurrection when there’s one woman and seven husbands? How is that just? Because God’s not limited, by gender or anything else. God creates abundance and children of God who knows no limit. Abundance is how Job works out. No, I’ve not forgotten him.

            Job sees scarcity. Can’t blame him. He’s lost his livestock and camel fleet, his servants, his children. He’s lost his health. His wife, the Bible tells us, is nagging him, “Oh, just curse God and die, already.” That’s nice. And his friends are trying to prove to him that he deserves his ill fortune. The world gives reasons to see scarcity. We lose things. We fail at things. Loved ones die. Our health deteriorates. People we depend upon let us down. It makes sense to see scarcity. But God has no limits. God creates abundance. Indeed, God breaks Job out of his funk by showing Job abundance. God spends four chapters listing all the cool stuff there is in the universe. “Why is there lightning? Why are there stars? Why are there birds? Why are any of those even things? I’m why. And there are a lot of things!”

Finally, Job says, “I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.” He stops limiting God. He lets God be God and all else flow from that. Job sees abundance. And, then, he sees more abundance. He has livestock, a camel fleet, children, siblings we didn’t know about before. The point is not, “Have faith and you’ll force God to give you stuff.” That would be limiting God, which was Job’s problem in the first place. The point is that when you see abundance you see more abundance.

What does Jesus see when he looks at us? Does he see an 85-year-old congregation past its prime, old roofs, old floors, not enough to do anything? No. Jesus sees abundance. Jesus sees people who know music, medicine, construction, educations, language and culture, political science, cooking, theology, decorating, painting, art, social work, electricity, insurance billing, law, law enforcement, raising children, environmental conservation, engineering, government, computer science, psychology, coaching, administration, pastoring, pharmaceuticals, college admissions, physical therapy, architecture, training animals, banking, housing services, employment services, golf course maintenance, chemistry, printing, small business management, large corporation management, steel mill work, book store management, landscaping, bartending, accounting, child care and activity planning, goods delivery, and equine care. And some other things.

Jesus sees an abundance of gifts: people, resources, knowledge, money, all the things you could possibly need to make a congregation work. And maybe the things to do work differently? Ours is the God who knows no limit. Jesus calls us to take our limits off God. We’ve been asking as part of our strategic planning, “If God has God’s way with our congregation for the next five years, what will happen?” That’s an exciting question. It removes the limits. Churchy answers are not the only answers. God is not limited by Job’s understanding of justice, or the Sadducees’ understanding of gender, and God is not limited by our ingrained ideas about Church. Jesus shows us an abundance of gifts. When we see that abundance, we see more abundance, ways God could use them, ways God wants us to let God be God and to serve the community through us.