“Good morning,” said Deep Thought.
“Er … good morning, O Deep Thought,” said Loonquawl nervously, “do you have … er … that is …”
“An answer for you?” interrupted Deep Thought majestically. “Yes. I have.”
“There really is one?” breathed Phouchg.
“There really is one,” confirmed Deep Thought.
“To Everything? To the great Question of Life, the Universe and Everything?”
“And you’re ready to give it to us?” urged Loonquawl.
“Now,” said Deep Thought. “Though I don’t think you are going to like it.”
“Doesn’t matter!” said Phouchg. “We must know it! Now!”
“Now?” inquired Deep Thought.
“Yes! Now …”
“All right,” said the computer and it settled into silence again.
“You’re really not going to like it,” observed Deep Thought.
“All right,” said Deep Thought. “The Answer to the great Question …”
“Of Life, the Universe and Everything …” said Deep Thought.
“Is …” said Deep Thought, and paused.
“Yes …!!! …?”
“Forty-two,” said Deep Thought, with infinite majesty and calm.
It was a long time before anyone spoke. Out of the corner of his eye Phouchg could see the sea of expectant faces down in the square outside.
“We’re going to get lynched, aren’t we?” he whispered.
“It was a tough assignment,” said Deep Thought mildly.
“Forty-two!” yelled Loonquawl. “Is that all you’ve got to show for seven and a half million years’ work?”
“I checked it very thoroughly,” said the computer, “and that quite definitely is the answer. I think the problem is, to be quite honest with you, is that you’ve never actually known what the question is.” [The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams: p. 168-172]
Hmmm … you’ve never actually known what the question is! I couldn’t help but think of Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy when I saw the gospel reading today. We’ve entered Holy Week once again – in the fall it’s kind of like sneaking in the back door. We focus in the spring on what happened to Jesus in his last week on earth. In the fall we focus on the teachings Jesus gave during Holy Week – the kind of things a guy might get crucified for saying. Today he is being tested by the Sadducees about the resurrection and its application in a levirate marriage. Now two things are in this story that we have a tough time dealing with: Sadducees and levirate marriage. Let me unpack both of them.
The Sadducees were a theo-political party (remember temple and state were one in the same back then). They didn’t believe in a resurrection of the righteous after death and largely served as scribes in the Temple in Jerusalem. The Pharisees were the rival theo-political party who believed in the resurrection of the dead and largely led the worship in the many synagogues dispersed throughout the Roman Empire. After the Temple was destroyed in 70AD, the Sadducees ceased to exist. Judaism today is a descendent of Pharisaic Judaism – and in his teaching, Jesus was more aligned with the Pharisees in their resurrection theology. Now these two parties didn’t get along but, in a case of politics making strange bedfellows, they could both agree they didn’t like Jesus and both were out to trap him.
The Sadducees set up a question about seven brothers for one bride (not to be confused with Seven Brides for Seven Brothers – that’s a musical). The illustration they use is of a levirate marriage law where, if a man dies childless, his widow is to marry the next brother and raise up children for the dead brother. Sounds weird in our culture (and it is in our culture) but back then when children were your social security, it was a way to guarantee some economic security. So they set up the question where the woman keeps marrying all these brothers and they all die childless and then the woman dies. Now if they had stopped there, I would have been all over this story! I mean “Hallelujah It’s Raining Men!” right?? I get to heaven and get seven husbands … and its heaven so I don’t have to do their laundry! That’s awesome!!
But then the buzzkill part comes: “In the resurrection, therefore, whose wife will the woman be? For the seven had married her.” The underlying question is “Whose property will she be, Jesus?” After all, women were considered the property of their husbands in that day.
Jesus’ response was much like Deep Thought’s – “You all don’t even know the question!” It isn’t about whose property she is and marriage is something of this world that doesn’t exist in the next. You’re paying attention to the wrong thing!
Notice what Jesus doesn’t do: he doesn’t give us a fully fleshed out answer as to what heaven looks like. He does say we will be different and that earthly institutions like marriage are irrelevant. And then he points out that the voice which came from the burning bush spoke to Moses of his ancestors Abraham, Isaac and Jacob saying “I am” their God. But the verb form of “I AM” is infinitive – which is to say “I WAS” their God, “I AM” their God, and “I ALWAYS WILL BE” their God. Jesus points out that the tense of the verb matters – God will always be our God and we will always live in the present moment with God in the resurrected life.
The good news of this encounter with the Sadducees is that we don’t have to get the questions right in order for God to save us in Christ. In fact, we may get the questions all wrong. God can handle that. The key is to keep searching and reaching out for our loving God who has promised us that nothing, absolutely nothing, can separate us from God’s love. We probably never really will know what the question is, let alone the answer. But in the resurrected life in God, our questions matter not … what matters is how well we love.