Friends, it is the last week before everything becomes Christmas everywhere. This Thursday we’ll gather around family and friends to eat turkey and cranberry sauce and stuffing and whatever other Thanksgiving delights you enjoy, and Friday it’ll be lights and holly and carols until December 25. Which, really, is a little exciting for me, because we get to celebrate our first Christmas season with Hazel! We get to put up lights on the house, and decorate the tree, and do all the things that make the season exciting and wonderful.
So with all that to look forward to, what is up with this text? Today is Christ the King Sunday, where we finish off the church year by honoring Jesus as king, and we read about Jesus on the cross. Honestly, there are a lot of other texts I think would be appropriate for naming Jesus as King. The Wise Men bringing gifts from far away. The transfiguration. The triumphal procession into Jerusalem on a donkey maybe. Something more…kingly. But instead, we get this Good Friday text just as we’re about to enter Advent.
I have a pretty bad habit of trying really hard to keep up with the news. It’s hard, because so often what comes across in the news is bad—or at the very least, makes me anxious. Whether it’s all the ruckus around the impeachment inquiry, or the next stage in the war in Syria as Turkey has broken the ceasefire, or the coup that ousted the Bolivian president last week, the news presents the world in a very terrifying light.
But it’s not just these big worldwide things that cause anxiety. We all have seen over the past few recent years the way the weather has been affecting our farming community. So many parents are under the pressure of multiple extracurricular activities so these kids can get a leg up in college applications or whatever next step they’ll have. The community itself has changed drastically, as our elders have noticed. And unfortunately, Jesus’ words of warning from today’s text had me end up really focusing in on those anxious things this week.
Today we read about Jesus in the Temple, fielding questions from the Sadducees. But before we get into what that whole conversation is about, let’s talk about what’s been happening up to this point. See, by now in Luke’s gospel, Jesus has entered the Temple, kicked out the moneychangers and the merchants, and set up shop as the authority. He’s teaching the crowds, like he always has, but now it’s in the Temple, in the heart of Jerusalem, at the center of the Jewish universe. And because he has such authority there, and he’s in front of so many people from all over the Jewish world, the different groups of leaders—Pharisees, Sadducees, and scribes—want to trip him up with questions.
They started by trying to get him to name whose authority gave him the right to kick out the money changers and merchants, and take up his seat in the Temple. They knew he couldn’t give an answer that would please the crowds and also not get him into trouble, so they thought it was a smart question—until Jesus insists they answer his question first about the authority of John the Baptist’s baptism.
Then, he gets confronted by a group asking him about taxes. Is it lawful, under Jewish law, to pay taxes to Caesar? Say yes, and Jesus would lose favor with the crowds. Say no, and he could be charged with sedition against Rome. So Jesus deftly maneuvers through it, giving us the phrase “give to Caesar what is Caesar’s; but give to God what is God’s.” And puts the ball right back in their court.
Well now we come up on the Sadducees. We aren’t told anything about them except that they didn’t believe in the resurrection. So, naturally, they wanted to discredit Jesus and his teachings by pointing out how absolutely ridiculous resurrection was! That should tip us off that their question is not in good faith. We all know the type—they’re not asking to learn, but asking to prove something. And because they’re not asking in good faith, we should read Jesus’ answer in that light.
Five hundred years ago, when Martin Luther nailed the ninety-five theses to the church door in Wittenberg, there was a reason he picked October 31 to do so. In Luther’s day, the next morning would have seen the church absolutely packed with notable people coming in for All Saints Day mass. See, while today the big Christian days are Christmas and Easter, in Luther’s day it was Easter and All Saints Day. The world revolved around the annual celebration of the saints of the church.
Now, All Saints Day is still celebrated widely around the world with lots of various traditions attached to it. In Mexico it comes during the season of Dia de Muertos, and in French-speaking countries it’s celebrated as Toussaint. But the big thing that countries that celebrate All Saints Day have in common is that they are all largely Catholic countries. Protestants like us, we tend to shy away from talking about saints, because for a long time, that was seen as “too Catholic” to do.