Sometimes, no matter how good our intentions are, that just isn’t enough.
Laws were passed after 9/11 in an effort to keep travelers safe. One of those laws involves placing all liquids in a quart-sized Ziploc baggie and taking them out of any carry-on luggage at security. Someone told me once that instead of bringing their liquids in a quart-size Ziploc baggie, they placed them in a sandwich sized baggie, and couldn’t get them through security. Because the law says “quart-sized.” Well intentioned law, but easily misused.
On a larger scale, U.S. Immigration laws were put in place to protect this country from disease, crime, and to maintain job security. As good as those intentions are, recent research shows that “Immigrants were more than twice as likely to start businesses each month in 2010 than were the native born,” according to a Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation report in March of that year. The report went on to say that “Immigrants founded 25 percent of U.S. high-tech startups between 1995 and 2005. Immigrants have much higher rates of business creation than natives.” New jobs come from new businesses. Well-intentioned laws, but racism and fear can get in the way.
The Sadducees in this gospel text are dealing with the same thing. “Moses wrote for us” this well-intentioned law. If a woman is widowed with no children, she is vulnerable, impoverished, and cannot protect her husband’s possessions. So to protect her, her husband’s brother must marry her and provide children.
But the Sadducees aren’t talking about the good intentions of this law. They are talking about this law as keeping women as property, and then using that in an attempt to trick Jesus. Whose wife will she be in the resurrection? They are making all kinds of mistakes, but the one relevant here is their assumption that rules and laws can accomplish God’s will. If only we obey the laws, all will be well, we think. If everyone would just follow the 10 commandments, life would be the way God intends, we think.
But laws and rules and policies–regardless of their good intentions–will always be misinterpreted or abused for our own ends. We have rules and laws, not to exhibit the reign of God, but because we are broken people who cannot do any better than show glimmers of God’s will. Good intentions, no matter how well regulated, can never take the place of loving God and loving neighbor. And Jesus, using the Sadducees own scripture, points that out by revealing that this age/this life, prior to the resurrection is incomparable to that age/that life after the resurrection. The laws, rules, and policies that are necessary today because of our moral brokenness, are irrelevant in the resurrection from the dead. Because then, God’s loving presence is all that’s necessary. There will be then only love, only peace, only grace.
So for now, we need laws and rules. Especially good-intentioned ones. But never make the mistake of trusting that God’s reign can be accomplished by following those laws. God’s reign cannot be bought by expensive attorneys who can manipulate those laws in our favor, but in God’s love and mercy apart from any laws.
We try to be good citizens, sure. Obeying laws keeps some order in society. But keeping laws cannot ever be compared to the goodness of God. For that comes through Jesus. And when obedience fails you, Jesus brings God’s love to you. When good intentions aren’t enough, Jesus comes to you with God’s peace. And when following the rules cannot provide security, Jesus comes to you with a new life that rises up above our broken world. “Indeed, you cannot die anymore, because you are like angels and are children of God, being children of the resurrection.” That is good news. Amen.