Fellow Passengers: This week’s Primary Passage* (Matthew 22:23-40) transports me to the scene of a Hollywood musical sequel to Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. The sequel, based on the borderline silly scenario the Sadducees posed to Jesus, would be called One Bride for Seven Brothers. It’s one of those typical “let’s stump the teacher” moments, like George Carlin asking one of his childhood priests, Father, you say God is powerful enough to do anything, right? Then can God make a rock so big that even God can’t lift it? The Sadducees’ version takes a bit longer to unravel, and it rises from their disbelief in resurrection. Their question arises from the provision in the Mosaic law that called for “Levirate Marriage,” which provides potential heirs to a widow whose husband dies childless. The brother-in-law is to step in and fill the shoes. The Sadducees pose a hypothetical of a poor widow who sent seven of these brother-in-law spouses to heaven before joining them herself. Think about this set up of family values next time you sing Give me that old time religion!
Jesus summarily dismisses the class clowns and their set-up, and sets up a logical argument of his own to prove the resurrection. The story then makes an abrupt segue into another set of mischief-makers for Jesus, the Pharisees, who want to test him with the old “what is the greatest commandment” puzzler. Their question was designed to pin Jesus down in one or another of the schismatic camps that had emerged around the roots of faith and prioritized passages. Jesus sends them back to the basics, back to kindergarten 101 of Biblical faith. It’s all about love. Love God with heart, soul, mind, and strength. And love neighbor as yourself. These are the twin hooks on which everything else in scripture hangs. The two provide the lens through which we can examine the life of Jesus and try to understand all the rest of scripture. Going from a riddle of resurrection to a riddle of the roots of faith seemed like a bit of a non sequitur at first. But when I thought about it, it occurred to me that when we love God with everything we have, and love our neighbors as we love ourselves, we are practicing resurrection, to borrow a Wendell Berry phrase. Love is a sign of the resurrection life.
Hard to tell how much God-loving and neighbor loving went on in Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. While the seven redheaded lumberjacks all had biblical names, in alphabetical order, they discovered their strategy to go and abduct their women not from a Biblical text, but from a story called The Sobbin’ Women, based on a Roman legend, The Rape of the Sabine Women. Seems that Romulus founded Rome primarily with men, and figured out soon enough that the empire to be wouldn’t quite make it to empire status at all without women folk there to create some progeny. Pity the Sabine sisters, who caught the eye of the Roman men and were soon captured. Romulus gave the enraged women a free choice, to stay and enjoy all the wonderful civil rights of the Roman world, including bearing free children, or go back to the woeful world of the Sabines, where the women didn’t have rights. They chose to stay. All this may seem a trifle insignificant or irrelevant to the text at hand about resurrection and loving God, but it appears to me that we haven’t moved a great distance from these ancient stories in terms of gender relationships, power plays, and domination. What would our world and our families look like if we rehearsed resurrection living on a daily basis? What would our relationships look like if gender roles were seen through the lens of the two greatest resurrection life commandments, loving God first and foremost with everything you have, and second of all, love your neighbor, beginning with your significant other, who is your closest neighbor, as yourself? I suspect that following those two laws would do more to transform rowdy, redheaded lumberjacks into gentle men than any barn-raising dance or finishing school. And I suspect these laws would turn the sobbing of Sabine women into raucous laughter.
How about you? Where does this Primary Passage take you on your journey of faith? Feel free to comment.