People can be very limited in their understanding! Its nothing to do with intelligence but rather in what information we have been given, or (more sinister) in what we want others to believe. We see it in politics when prejudices and myths are promulgated to ridicule te opposition or promote an attitude. For example - most benefit claims are fraudulent or the French are unreliable.
It was ever thus and therefore there's a social and historic background to this morning's gospel reading. The history of the Sadducees is a bit vague and may itself be coloured by the prejudices of those who passed on the information but it seems that they were a small group of Jews who focussed on a literal and basic interpretation of Scripture without any allowances. Also, for our purposes, they did not believe in immortality or resurrection. These two attitudes explain why they challenged Jesus in the way they did. It might have been a deliberate attempt to provoke ridicule or it might have been a genuine concern, rooted in their very literal approach to the teaching of the past. They simply couldn't handle anything that was new.
As they saw it, heaven, if it existed at all, was simply a continuation of this life and that the rules of this life would continue to apply.
The Sadducees may be gone, but the attitude still remains among us! Not in any malicious sense, but simply because we, as humans, have such great difficulty trying to understand what heaven will be like. Even the descriptions in Revelation are limited to things which we can understand – a city of gold, a river, a tree, a throne room, a large gathering. You might have in your mind heaven as a place in the country, or a cloud, or a place where you will have a mansion in which will live all your past generations – the great reunion. People get anxious about who or what will be there – the dog or cat? What about Roman Catholics, what about criminals, what about Sadducees. And it gets so confusing.
And it will continue thus for our little minds cannot, in this life, comprehend heaven.
At its very simplest and broadest, the words of a chorus come to mind:
Heaven is a wonderful place
Filled with glory and grace
I’m gonna see my Saviour's face
For heaven is a wonderful place
I wanna go there.
To the Sadducees, Jesus makes two points.
First, he says, remove your limitations. Set aside the regulation on marriage because it is a gift for this age – there is something greater. This doesn't do away with the hope of reunion but rather tells us that there is something even greater. My soul will meet with the souls of grandparents and more but the relationship will be even better, even deeper because we are children of the resurrection, God's children.
Second, Jesus tells the Sadducees, this is not actually a new teaching, the great fathers of our faith, Moses, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are still alive under God. He is the god of the living, for to him all are alive.
This is a big encouragement to us this morning. And a big challenge. We are encouraged by the hope of resurrection but also challenged in our understanding of heaven. We don't always want to deal with such issues and this is something so great that writers, artists theologians cannot help us but maybe only increase our limitations of thought.
We can only catch a glimpse, through Scripture, through worship, through seeking the presence of God here with us now – a little bit of heaven breaking into earth. Setting aside our prejudices and misunderstandings and allowing the Holy Spirit to show us enough of what we need to know so that, despite the rubbish that we hear around us,we can truly rejoice and find comfort today in what is yet to come.