Puzzling It Out

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Today’s readings:
Psalms 18:1-20; 147:12-20, Isaiah 2:5-22, 1 Thessalonians 3:1-13, Luke 20:27-40


Under ancient Jewish marriage laws, a widow was instructed to marry her late husband’s unwed brother. Theoretically, if that brother died, and there was another brother, she would marry him. And if he died … on down the line.

The Sadducees, who did not even believe in resurrection, tried to trip up Jesus with a hypothetical question about who in the resurrection would be the husband of a woman who’d married seven brothers. Jesus told them nothing as we understood it – including marriage – would be the same.

On one level he was specifically addressing the Sadducees, but on another (and when is anything Jesus says not multi-layered?) he was pointing out the futility of trying to cram God and God’s kingdom into the tiny fragments of human understanding that describe and limit our faith. If we treat them like pieces of a puzzle and try to force them into a single picture, we soon learn that not only are we missing countless pieces, the ones we have may be from different boxes. The only way to fit them inside our desired frame of reference is to tear off the inconvenient bits and pound them flat.

No wonder the picture of Christianity can often make so little sense, especially to outsiders. Not knowing is uncomfortable and scary, so we can waste time rearranging the pieces. This obsession disengages us from the “God of the living” – from life and all its blessed messiness.

An insistence on theological tidiness, especially about unknowable things, doesn’t make us better believers. Mystics of all faiths describe the moment of divine revelation as a surrender to mystery. The wisest people admit to knowing nothing.

Getting stuck in “head” religion ultimately leads to frustration. Thinking you lack spiritual wisdom because you don’t know the right terms or scripture quotes is just not true. God is found in living hearts, not dead paper. Christ is the Living Word not because he appears on Bible pages, but because he rewrites the world.

Rather than “bow down to the work of [our] own hands” by stuffing God into ideas we’ve created, let’s trust that God is present with us in the glorious chaos of life.

Comfort: You don’t have to understand everything – as a matter of fact no one does!

Challenge: Try to give up finding the answer to one question you wish you knew.

Prayer: Infinite God, Lord of all Creation, I am open to your mystery and majesty. Amen.

Discussion: What’s the longest you’ve ever worked on a puzzle before giving up?

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Love Equally

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Readings: Psalms 122; 145, Amos 7:1-9,  Revelation 1:1-8, Matthew 22:23-33


Mosaic law contained rules about marriage which we consider unusual today. If a man died childless, his brother had to marry his widow. The intent behind this law was to protect the widow from poverty and disgrace as she would have no means of support. In a modern society, where women hold jobs and own property equally with men, this is an outdated and rarely practiced idea.

The Sadducees were a Jewish sect who did not believe in the resurrection as Jesus taught. Fearing his influence on the people, they tried to trip him up to diminish public opinion of him. They thought the following scenario would do the trick.

A man with six brothers died childless. Per the law, his brother married his wife. The second brother also died childless, and she married the third brother, and so on until eventually she had married  all seven brothers. Who, the Sadducees asked, would be her husband in the resurrection?

Jesus told them they were asking the wrong questions, “For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven.”

That must have been a showstopper. Until very recently most people did not marry for love, but there have been rules about fidelity and ownership for a long time. The concept of women who did not need to rely on men was almost unthinkable. Jesus was saying, “I know the rules, but the current social structures are not the equality God ultimately has in mind for you.” While not exactly a ringing endorsement of the Equal Rights Amendment, it sent the message that once the world was made anew, women would be independent.

Today in the western world, the equality shared legally (if not practically) by men and women makes love-based marriage the norm. Viewing others as equals – as fully human beings – makes other types of love possible as well. Empathy requires us to identify with another person, and if we don’t think of them as equal, that empathy is stunted. The church has traditionally promoted the values of faith, hope, and love as described in 1 Corinthians, but the Greek word (agape) for the type of sacrificial “love” intended can just as legitimately be translated as “charity.” English doesn’t really have an equivalent word. Maybe that’s why we struggle with understanding current social structures as anything other than vertical, with the “haves” obliged to show charity to the “have nots.”  When we realize we are no different, giving and receiving charity are no longer sources of obligation or shame, but acts of sharing between children of God as any loving family might perform.

Empathy and equality release us from the slavery of convention into the freedom of love.

Comfort: God loves you equally to kings and paupers, friends and enemies.

Challenge: What groups of people do you have trouble empathizing with? Make an effort to get to know them.

Prayer: The Lord is good to all, and his compassion is over all that he has made. (Psalm 145:9)

Discussion: What prejudices do you struggle with?

Join the discussion! If you enjoyed this post, feel free to join an extended discussion as part of the C+C Facebook group. You’ll be notified of new posts through FB, and have the opportunity to share your thoughts with some lovely people. Or feel free to comment here on WordPress, or even re-blog – the more the merrier!