“Hypotheticals and What Ifs” November 10, 2019
“Hypotheticals and What Ifs”
Haggai 1:15b – 2:9
2 Thessalonians 2:1-5, 13-17
A 4th grade elementary teacher was wanting to teach her students about self-esteem, and she had an idea but she wasn’t so sure about it. So, one day in a staff meeting she said, “What if – hypothetically now – what if I were to ask in the classroom; what if I were to say something like “Anyone who truly thinks that you are stupid, stand up?” Most of the other teachers thought that this would be a fine idea. It would encourage the kids. It might teach them that even though they might struggle, they still have worth; they’re smarter than they think.” And so the next day, that’s what she did. But when one kid stood up, she was surprised. She really didn’t think anyone would actually stand up, so she asked, “Why did you stand up?” His answer was one for the books when he said, “I didn’t want to leave you standing up by yourself.”
In our gospel text from Luke, the Sadducees are looking to trip up the master with a “what if” situation that is almost bizarre. First off, let’s remember that the big difference between the Pharisees and the Sadducees was their understanding of the writings of Moses when it comes to resurrection. The Pharisees believed and preached in life after death, while the Sadducees did not, and that was the point of this crazy hypothetical with the 7 brothers all marrying the same wife. According to the law, if a man dies childless, it is his brother’s obligation to take the widow as his wife and raise up children for his brother. Now that, in itself, to our modern ears is way out there, but it was the law. And to the Sadducees, the law was everything. So to disprove the resurrection, they spin this crazy hypothetical about a man who dies childless. His brother then does the lawful thing by marrying the widow but he too dies with no children, and on down the line a total of 7 brothers- until everyone has passed from this world and there are still no children born. The “gotcha” question comes when they ask Jesus whose wife she would be in heaven. You have to wonder if they stayed up half the night thinking up this brilliant scheme.
But here’s the thing – Jesus doesn’t rise to the bait. Instead, he patiently tells the Sadducees that they have missed one important point. Their conception of God is too small. To understand- to grasp- the whole idea of a resurrection according to our earthly terms and conditions is, frankly, impossible. We may know how to make a Key Lime pie and we might understand advanced algebra, but all the knowledge and experience in this world combined don’t bring us an inch closer to the mysteries and wonder of God’s heavenly kingdom. It’s of another order entirely, and we can only approach it by faith. Now, at this point we could take this text from the gospel of Luke, tie it up with a blue ribbon, and shout to the world that this is another wonderful example of the importance of faith. But like the Sadducees, we have questions.
We have questions because we are human and, quite frankly, the resurrection has never made sense in human terms. We want the details; we want to know how it works. But once again, our earthly understandings make that impossible. To get a glimpse of what it means to be children of the resurrection, we need inspiration. We need to be stretched and challenged. We need a shot of imagination, and one of the best ways to kick start our imagination is through hypothetical questions. If you read between the lines a bit, you’ll notice that Jesus is challenging the Sadducees with just that.
Just for kicks, I’d like to share a few earthly hypotheticals with you with the hope of crossing over into something not so worldly. They can be silly, they can be fun, and they can reveal things about us that we didn’t know existed:
If you could live in anyone’s head for fifteen minutes, who would it be?
If your dog or cat suddenly spoke one sentence and then never spoke again, what would be the most unsettling sentence they could say?
How would our view of space change if the moon was actually make of cheese?
And then to get personal, What would you do if a teaspoon of your tears could be used to cure cancer in one person? If you could know the truth behind any one secret or mystery, what would it be? Hypothetical questions. They can be annoying and at the same time they can jump start the imagination. I’d like to think that the Sadducees walked away from their encounter with Jesus on that day with a fresh understanding of the wonder and power of their God; that ours is a God not of the dead, but of the living. But mostly, I’d like to think that he might have left them with one final hypothetical question, “If the Lord your God had offered you eternal life, would you accept it?” It’s the same question that Jesus asks us today. I’d like to think that our answer is and will always be, “Yes, Lord. Yes.”
Amen & Shalom