Many years ago, I used to have a boss when I worked in a Botanic Garden who would sometimes use a phrase that has always stuck in my mind. Whenever she used to have run-ins with people that she saw as being deliberately or wilfully antagonistic towards her she would say that “You should never wrestle with a pig because the guaranteed outcome is that you both get covered in mud and the pig may end up enjoying it.” I have always liked the saying because although it's ridiculous I could really see her point in it. Richard Dawkins, a man that you don’t normally hear being referred to in this pulpit would say something similar, “Never get into an argument with an idiot, because the most you can hope for is that you win an argument with an idiot."
On reading the Gospel passage today, it appears that Jesus may have found himself in just such a scenario. Not that I am not calling the Sadducees idiots but they were not all interested in communicating with him, in fact what they were doing was to wilfully try to undermine the message that Jesus was conveying. Jesus was spreading the idea that God loves us all, so boundless in the generosity of that love that even death cannot conquer it. The Sadducees didn’t believe that as it wiped out the notion of their privileged status. It wasn’t about God, it was about them.
This small passage comes at the end of a Chapter where Jesus has had to fend off the increasingly hostile questions of the authorities in the Temple. As the Chapter progresses you can feel the sense of hostility that just keeps ramping up and up. As you read it you can almost see the picture of them coming in with a question, then Jesus dealing with it, them all leaving to gather their thoughts before storming back in with an, “And another thing...”. I have no doubt that our Lord and saviour would have been exercising a certain amount of eye rolling and thinking to himself, “What now?”. It is not entirely dissimilar to the endless arguments that adults have with children about why they can’t eat more than their own bodyweight in chocolate 10 minutes before they are about to have their dinner. Jesus was a model of restraint in this, he dealt with them all calmly and clearly.
This sort of question that the Sadducees employed is an old trick and one that displayed their desperation to be proved right at any cost. They didn’t want to share ideas, The Sadducees were entrenched, they felt as though they had nothing to learn from Christ, they considered themselves to be superior and felt undermined by Jesus’ radical teaching so they, in turn, were determined to teach him a thing or two.
This question was meant as a put down. They weren’t interested in listening, they wanted to tie Jesus in knots and that is at the heart of this and where I feel that we have most to learn from this encounter.
It is important that we all listen to each other, to properly engage because if we don’t we are guaranteed to miss something, you don’t have to look very far in the news to see the devastating effects that people not listening can have.
Every morning I pray and the Northumbrian community’s morning prayer asks God to, “Be in the heart of each to whom we speak and in the mouth of each who speaks to us” and we forget that at our peril. Openness is much more powerful than being closed. To be Christian should mean that we have a desire to be transformed, to grow and flourish, but that flourishing is not at the expense of each other but it enables each other. But how can that happen if we don’t take the time to listen. We may never agree with some people, and that is ok, but we can’t go around with the attitude that the Sadducees had, because that will get us nowhere.
Sometimes it happens that when people believe in something (and I am as guilty of it as anybody else) that ends up being it, the journey stops there. They don’t have to think or consider it any longer, they have a position and everybody else that disagrees with them is just plain wrong.
So let us all be more like Christ, abundant in love until it flows over, generous in our habits, let us share our stories and listen to others because that is where the Kingdom of God will be found.