A running blogger that I have followed for years recently shared a rather in-depth post about her faith that I found fascinating. It was completely off-topic from the usual content of her blog, but after years of offhanded references to her beliefs, the post was super popular and prompted lots of follow-up discussion from her readers.
I was curious about what strangers’ reactions would be, and found myself scrolling through the comments section (something I almost NEVER do) to see what people were saying. Most were incredibly respectful, but people had questions. She belongs to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, so many people were asking some version of, “Do you guys really believe in ____?” In particular, there were tons of questions on the church’s views on marriage for eternity. I kept reading in fascination as some comments grilled her on the subject by presenting specific and complex hypothetical situations regarding divorce, wanting her to address who would “get custody of the kids” in blended families for eternity.
Reading those comments IMMEDIATELY brought Matthew 22 to mind. And they provided some fresh perspective on how we humans approach discussions of faith.
Just like internet commenters looking for an explanation of how heaven might work under the most complicated of family dynamics, we see the Sadducees fishing for Jesus’ answer about the afterlife by presenting a scenario with seven husbands. Their baited question was so similar to my own observation in that running blog comments section – right down to the specifics of how multiple marriages in life would impact family life after death – that it was striking.
There really is nothing new under the sun, is there? Our human inclination, both now and then, is to try to trap the respondent by presenting an extreme case that tests the ability of the person to explain their worldview. It’s a really unfair way to debate – used by those who are more interested in winning the moment than having a meaningful discussion.
Jesus, though, never engages these baiting questions as expected. He rises above our natural tendency to respond directly to the attack and instead addresses the underlying issue at the root of their question. The Sadducees question of “whose wife is she in the afterlife” was meant to point out the absurdity of holding a belief in the resurrection of the dead. But rather than get bogged down by their riddle, Jesus points them back to the words of Moses to reveal a greater truth that they have had in front of them all along.
It’s so effective that he silences them. And he does the same thing multiple times in this chapter alone, overturning traps from the religious leaders by pointing them to the Scripture that they have had at their disposal the entire time. His responses are simple and clear, but are always guiding them back to God’s heart on these hotly debated yet narrowly-focused issues that were so divisive among the Jews of the day.
It’s hardly a stretch to imagine how Jesus might address the divisive views within our own fragmented church community today. Our tendency, whether among fellow believers or with anyone who shares an opposing viewpoint to our own, is to immediately turn our attention to some detail that will best allow us to lay an effective trap for our “opponents.” Just like the Pharisees and Sadducees. Just like the commenters.
I don’t think Jesus would stoop to our level any more today than he did then, do you? He is still beckoning us back toward God’s intent. Next time I find myself in the weeds on a divisive issue, my prayer is that rather than getting lost in a line of cross-examination that is only meant to trap, He will gently prod my perspective and my choice of words back toward His heart.