The folks we meet today in the gospel reading are interesting. We don’t see them a whole lot, matter of fact, this is one of the few places they are mentioned in the gospel of Luke. These guys were known as the Sadducees. They were a branch of the holymen of Biblical times. The odd thing about the Sadducees is that they only adhered to the first five books of what we would call the Old Testament. Now in these five books, there is no mention of resurrection. The Sadducees did not believe in the resurrection, that is what made them sad, you see?
But even though they did not believe in the resurrection, they did have a deep and abiding faith. They believed that they were to keep the laws of the Torah, the first five books of the Bible, and that they would live on throughout the thoughts and memories of those who came after them. So there was a “form” of living on after death, but not the bodily resurrection that we currently associate with Christianity.
But I have a question for you to think about: Why were the Sadducees so devout? They devoted their life to God, but they were not promised anything in return. In their theology, when they died, that was the end of it all. So if they were not promised eternal paradise, why be devout? If you believed that there was no heaven, would you be a believer or would you just go out and live for the moment?
So often we get caught up in the whole Santa model of God; you know, “He sees you when you’re sleeping, he knows when you’re awake. He knows if you’ve been bad or good so be good for goodness sake!” We MUST be good, because if we aren’t, then we will not get our presents, I mean, eternal life. We may not want to come out and say it, but many of us have this kind of understanding of God lurking at some level.
And it is this God as Santa theology, or maybe we could call it “God-Will-Squash-You-If-You-Don’t-Behave” theology, that runs throughout the story of Job. There is the understanding among Job’s friends that God is just waiting to smash Job under God’s thumb the moment Job does something wrong. And the reason Job is suffering is because Job must have done something wrong.
Just a reminder, Job was a righteous man who was suddenly afflicted with all kinds of hardships from having his family die to having sores appear all over his body. In the story, we are told that Job did nothing to earn these afflictions; we are told that they were given to him by Satan to see if he would curse God. And also in the story, we are told that Job has three “friends” who come to try to convince Job that he needs to repent from his sins so that he might get back into God’s good graces and get all these bad things taken from him.
I often wonder how I would do in a situation like that. Would I just give up on God and decide to just do whatever? Would I curse God and decide it was not worth it? I would hope not. I would hope that I would remain faithful even in the face of tragedy. And I hope that I would remain faithful even if eternal life was not a promise. I would hope that the gift of life and the beauty of the earth and people that surround me would be enough to move me to worship.
You see, somewhere we have acquired the idea that there is some kind of contract between equals that exists between us and God. We do good things, and God gives us good things. We worship God and God lifts us up into Heaven. God needs us, and in return, God makes our lives easier.
But it is this kind of thought that takes away our awe and respect for God. As cold as this may sound, God doesn’t need us. God would still be God even if we totally ignored God. This is the harsh reality, (at least for our human egos!) God doesn’t “benefit” from being in a relationship with us! God is no farther ahead with us nor is God any farther behind without us. Again, that is harsh, but that is the truth: God is God and we aren’t.
But when we come to the realization that God doesn’t owe us anything, we begin to realize just how great God is! It is only then that we realize how extravagant God is! God doesn’t have to give us anything, and still, God gives us a beautiful world, magnificent opportunities, and incredible people. God gives us challenges, pleasures, and experiences. God places these things into our lives, not because God owes us anything, God places these things into our lives because God loves us! Pure and simple, God Loves Us!
And for all the wonders that God has given us in our lives, even if we were to worship God constantly, we could never repay what God has given. Just giving our worship to God for the wonders that we have experienced in this day to this point could consume our lives. And even with that, God continues to bless us. Even if we never say “Thanks,” God continues to bless us. Even without the promise of eternal life, we would be eternally indebted to God.
This is what Job understood. This is what the Sadducees understood. This is what Job’s friends didn’t understand; and this is what we so often forget.
But in Christ coming to Earth, it doesn’t end here! In the person of Christ, we HAVE the promise of resurrection! We have what the Sadducees could only dream of! Not only do we have the gift of life, the gift of love, the gift of possibilities in our lives here and now, but we also have the gift and the promise of eternal life in the resurrection! This is the great gift God has given us. Not only do we have the promise of eternal life to look forward to, but we have the wonder of life in the here and now to enjoy and to revel in.
Yes, we should be like the Job and know we are redeemed even when our things appear to be falling apart. And yes, we should be like the Sadducees and be able to devoutly worship, even without the promise of eternal life. We should be able to do this, but if we can’t we still have a God who loves us. We still have a God who gives us life and beauty. We still have a God who promises us more than we could ever deserve! What a wonderful, marvelous gift. And so much more than we could ever expect from Santa Claus.