Monday, November 4, 2013

Finding Kingdom Worthiness. A Homily for 11.10.13 from Luke 20:27, 34-38 for the 32nd Sunday of Ordinary Time.

Homily for 11.10.13
Thirty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time C
Luke 20:27-38 (see TEXT below)
edited from an original homily
posted 11.2.10

TODAY’S GOSPEL reading from the lectionary is a reminder of the ongoing conflict between Jesus and those vested interests that opposed any change, and how because of this certain religious leaders -- the Sadducees -- were constantly challenging Jesus’ teaching and authority, to the end that they might accuse Him and dismiss Him. 

As you probably already know, the Sadducees had no belief in the resurrection. New Testament scholar N.T. Wright writes that they may of rejected this teaching because they saw it as a "modern” heresy of recent origin, or they may have rejected it because they realized how revolutionary it was, and the Sadducees were anxious to hang on to their aristocratic power. 

Therefore, since the Sadducees had no belief in the resurrection, this question of marriage was no doubt a default area of argument. I get the sense that this "whose wife is she anyway" was no new line of attack. Instead, this was probably a tried and true conundrum that they had often used to silence those who believed in resurrection. 

What they had not counted upon, of course, was Jesus’ authoritative knowledge of the subject! That is, the fact they were speaking with the one holding such ultimate authority over the question of resurrection and the life of GOD  — which after all is the point of the pericope — put them at a special disadvantage in the argument.

You can almost hear the chuckle in Jesus’ voice, 
“Silly Sadducees, there’s no marriage then. For in the resurrected things will be different; things will be made new then. And, of course, the reason Jesus speaks with such authority was his origin, and the fact that He Himself was about to walk that same road -- the first-fruits of many brothers and sisters (see: St. Paul, 1 Cor. 15).
But, having said this, I want us to drill down a little farther into the text, for there is a statement that troubles me, and one that actually connects powerfully with last week’s homily about Zacchaeus and how the Gospel changes the heart and behavior with new life and a new way to live. 

Notice, the TEXT reads: 
Now at the resurrection whose wife will that woman be? For all seven had been married to her." Jesus said to them, "The children of this age marry and remarry; but those who are deemed worthy to attain to the coming age and to the resurrection of the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage.
Notice the phrase: 
those who are deemed worthy to attain to the coming age
It is the words, deemed worthy (which is actually one word in the Greek) that trouble me. What could Jesus mean by deemed worthy? Who can be deemed worthy of the Kingdom; who can measure-up to its entrance calling?

Well, of course, on the face of it we know we are not worthy of either the Gospel or the Kingdom. In fact, we instinctively recoil against this because, if we are honest with ourselves, then we know ourselves to be sinners, plain and simple. So, we know to enter the Kingdom is to offer ourselves -- sin and all -- to the Christ; it is to offer our lives to the King & for the Kingdom, and in so doing we receive the gift of GOD found in the work of Christ on the cross and the resurrection. But now we read we must also be deemed worthy of the Kingdom?

The word here translated deemed worthy is the Greek word -- καταξιόω (kat-ax-ee-o'-o), and in the best manuscripts it is used once in the Luke (here), once in Acts, (5:41) and once in 2 Thessalonians (1:5).

Let’s look for a moment at these other two additional TEXTS to help us understand what we are reading here:
33 When they heard that, they were cut to the heart, and took counsel to slay them. 34 Then stood there up one in the council, a Pharisee, named Gamaliel, a doctor of the law, had in reputation among all the people, and commanded to put the apostles forth a little space; 35 And said unto them, Ye men of Israel, take heed to yourselves what ye intend to do as touching these men. 36 For before these days rose up Theudas, boasting himself to be somebody; to whom a number of men, about four hundred, joined themselves : who was slain ; and all, as many as obeyed him, were scattered , and brought to nought. 37 After this man rose up Judas of Galilee in the days of the taxing, and drew away much people after him: he also perished ; and all, even as many as obeyed him, were dispersed . 38 And now I say unto you, Refrain from these men, and let them alone : for if this counsel or this work be of men, it will come to nought : 39 But if it be of God, ye cannot overthrow it; lest haply ye be found even to fight against God. 40 And to him they agreed : and when they had called the apostles, and beaten them, they commanded that they should not speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go . 41 And they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for his name. 42 And daily in the temple, and in every house, they ceased not to teach and preach Jesus Christ. (Acts 5:33-42)

1 This letter is from Paul, Silas, and Timothy. It is written to the church in Thessalonica, you who belong to God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 2 May God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ give you grace and peace. 3 Dear brothers and sisters, we always thank God for you, as is right, for we are thankful that your faith is flourishing and you are all growing in love for each other. 4 We proudly tell God's other churches about your endurance and faithfulness in all the persecutions and hardships you are suffering. 5 But God will use this persecution to show his justice. For he will make you worthy of his Kingdom, for which you are suffering, 6 and in his justice he will punish those who persecute you. (2 Thessalonians 1:1-6)

Notice, how both the Acts text and the Thessalonian text tie being worthy to Kingdom to suffering in the here and now....

This reminded me of an additional passage from St. Luke’s Gospel, which, while not using the word translated worthy, definitely point us toward the heart of Jesus' meaning:
25 Great crowds were following Jesus. He turned around and said to them, 26 "If you want to be my follower you must love me more than your own father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters -- yes, more than your own life. Otherwise, you cannot be my disciple. 27 And you cannot be my disciple if you do not carry your own cross and follow me. 28 "But don't begin until you count the cost. For who would begin construction of a building without first getting estimates and then checking to see if there is enough money to pay the bills? 29 Otherwise, you might complete only the foundation before running out of funds. And then how everyone would laugh at you! 30 They would say, 'There's the person who started that building and ran out of money before it was finished!'  (Luke 14:25-33)

Here, then, is the issue, and it becomes very clear in our actual, daily pursuit of the Gospel. We notice from the above text how Jesus declares that you cannot be his disciple if you do not carry your own cross and follow him. So don't begin the journey until you count the cost. And, as we begin to follow the narrow way, we discover the cost of pursuing this new life and this new way to live.

The point Jesus is making is that to follow him involves suffering, sometimes great suffering, and we are to recognize this upfront prior to our decision to follow the Jesus-way. Here I am reminded of those fellow-followers of the Jesus-way around the planet who, unlike we Western Christian, daily suffer so much for the sake of the Gospel.

Perhaps the best way to grasp what is at stake is to think of what the Kingdom cost the King...
5 Your attitude should be the same that Christ Jesus had. 6 Though he was God, he did not demand and cling to his rights as God. 7 He made himself nothing; he took the humble position of a slave and appeared in human form. 8 And in human form he obediently humbled himself even further by dying a criminal's death on a cross. 9 Because of this, God raised him up to the heights of heaven and gave him a name that is above every other name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:5-11)
This, then, must be our path as well!  The downward movement of counting the cost of this narrow way, this steep path, and willingly following Jesus anyway and all the way. This is what it means to be deemed worthy to attain to the coming age. And, whether we realized it at the time, or are only now coming to the understanding, this costly discipleship is that for which we signed on when we decided to offer the living, risen Christ our lives and loyalty. 

Or, think about it in this way. The practice of thought which we pursue here is the balance between Paul and James. If we were to ask Paul, "Will you be included in the coming Kingdom?" Paul would have answered, "Yes, of course."  But, if you were to ask the same question to James, he would say, "How can I know, I'm not there yet." That is, Paul's theology emphasizes the gift of the Kingdom, while James' theology emphasizes the demand of the Kingdom. Both are true; both have their place.

To remain faithful in the midst of struggle of suffering, therefore, shows us to be living worthily to the calling we have received when we followed the Christ, even though we still reside in our unworthiness of selfishness. To endure hardships as a good solider, this shows us worthy of the calling we have received to follow the Christ. To be ready to follow when it is convenient and when it is inconvenient, this shows us living worthy to the calling we received to follow the Christ.

Said differently, it’s not that we earn the Kingdom because we do not. For, we know that Jesus, and only Jesus, won the Kingdom when he defeated the powers of evil and absorbed the hate and greed and brokenness of a world at war with itself. To be worthy of the Kingdom is not to earn it but to remain faithful to the King no matter what happens in these few short years of our life.

Finally, then, think of these two texts from St. Paul — who suffered much for the sake of both the Gospel and the King — as a concluding emphasis for this idea of a suffering worthiness:
22 They say they are Hebrews, do they? So am I. And they say they are Israelites? So am I. And they are descendants of Abraham? So am I. 23 They say they serve Christ? I know I sound like a madman, but I have served him far more! I have worked harder, been put in jail more often, been whipped times without number, and faced death again and again. 24 Five different times the Jews gave me thirty-nine lashes. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked. Once I spent a whole night and a day adrift at sea. 26 I have traveled many weary miles. I have faced danger from flooded rivers and from robbers. I have faced danger from my own people, the Jews, as well as from the Gentiles. I have faced danger in the cities, in the deserts, and on the stormy seas. And I have faced danger from men who claim to be Christians but are not. 27 I have lived with weariness and pain and sleepless nights. Often I have been hungry and thirsty and have gone without food. Often I have shivered with cold, without enough clothing to keep me warm. 28 Then, besides all this, I have the daily burden of how the churches are getting along. (2 Corinthians 11:22-28)

1 And so I solemnly urge you before God and before Christ Jesus -- who will someday judge the living and the dead when he appears to set up his Kingdom: 2 Preach the word of God. Be persistent, whether the time is favorable or not. Patiently correct, rebuke, and encourage your people with good teaching. 3 For a time is coming when people will no longer listen to right teaching. They will follow their own desires and will look for teachers who will tell them whatever they want to hear. 4 They will reject the truth and follow strange myths. 5 But you should keep a clear mind in every situation. Don't be afraid of suffering for the Lord. Work at bringing others to Christ. Complete the ministry God has given you. 6 As for me, my life has already been poured out as an offering to God. The time of my death is near. 7 I have fought a good fight, I have finished the race, and I have remained faithful. 8 And now the prize awaits me -- the crown of righteousness that the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give me on that great day of his return. And the prize is not just for me but for all who eagerly look forward to his glorious return. 2 Timothy 4:1-8)



LUKE 20:27, 34-38

Some Sadducees, those who deny that there is a resurrection,
came forward.

Jesus said to them,
"The children of this age marry and remarry;
but those who are deemed worthy to attain to the coming age
and to the resurrection of the dead
neither marry nor are given in marriage. 
They can no longer die,
for they are like angels;
and they are the children of God
because they are the ones who will rise. 
That the dead will rise
even Moses made known in the passage about the bush,
when he called out 'Lord, '
the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob;
and he is not God of the dead, but of the living, for to him all are alive."