Like the Angels
by Lori Heine
If Jesus sometimes seems to have lost His patience with religious legalism, it’s not hard to understand why. When the Sadducees confronted Him with a hypothetical situation about a woman who had married, in succession, seven different brothers and survived them all, they showed how far they were willing to go to tie Him into nit-picky knots. “In the Resurrection,” they demanded to know, “whose wife will she be?”
Our Lord probably just shook His head. “Just imagine,” He must have thought with a sigh, “going through life in such a tangle!” As the expert on resurrection, whose true home was Heaven, His answer was definitive. “In the Resurrection,” He calmly replied, “she will be no one’s wife. Because then, we will all be like the angels of Heaven: neither marrying nor being given in marriage.”
Now, the Sadducees should have known better than to bring up the subject of the Resurrection to Jesus in the first place, considering the fact that they didn’t even believe in it. This was proof their question was nothing but a cynical ploy. For members of their religious party, the physical finality of death outweighed any hope that after death, life could continue. These were people who valued the tangible and concretely-discernible things of this world as ultimate expressions of God’s favor. Folks like Jesus, who believed in the value of the un-seeable as well as the seeable, posed a threat to their agenda of building power on the here-and-now foundation of the material world.
The Sadducees didn’t want to think about anything that couldn’t be seen, grasped or manipulated in their own, immediate, physical sphere of influence. The concept Jesus introduced to them – of human beings one day “neither marrying nor being given in marriage” most likely, in their opinion, sounded as wacky as that of the dead’s ever rising again. For the obvious further implication of such an idea was that sex – including the social construct of gender – would one day be meaningless. As any Resurrection in which they stood on par with the poor, with the uneducated, with foreigners and even with women likely would likely be their idea not of Heaven, but of Hell, no wonder they didn’t want to rise again!
The powerful elite of Jesus’s time – pretty much like those of today – took a far greater stock in what set them (at least in their own reckoning) above other people than in what could be shared in common with them. A material value-system, like all forms of idolatry, is based upon placing supreme value in something other than God. That such a pathetically askew value-system could have existed in Judaism – among the very Chosen People of God – may seem a bit odd to us. Until we realize how common it remains among those who claim the name of Christian today.
Whenever people’s worth is estimated according to any standard other than God’s, the inevitable result is a sense of inordinate pride on the part of those assumed to have greater status. A common prayer for the religious male Jew of Jesus’s time was “Oh, Lord God, King of Heaven and earth, I thank You for not having made me a woman!” Forgotten in this scheme of things was that, according to Genesis, both male and female human beings were made in the likeness of God. What such a prayer actually does is to arrogantly puff up the sender by suggesting that the attributes he may not share with others are more important than those he shares with all. It also carries the implication that this especially-favored man’s attributes make him more like God than others.
Who are we to weigh or measure the attributes of God -- determining, by the puny power of our own reckoning, which ones are greater than the others? Especially for the sake of exalting ourselves! One of the most powerful lessons of Jesus’s earthly life and shameful murder was that people can be devoutly religious, yet remain woefully without a clue. It’s frightening how easy it is, in the very name of serving God, to neglect what matters in the service of what doesn’t mean a thing.
What truly matters is not necessarily what is most readily visible to our earthly eyes, but what God made to last forever. When Jesus appeared to His followers after His own glorious Resurrection, they did not immediately recognize Him. This was because He now looked as He would for all the eternity beyond time. It is very likely that He no longer appeared simply as just another adult male human. He was – as He is today – “like the angels.”
“Here,” the Scriptures tell us, “we have no lasting city.” And indeed, we were created not to die with our mortal bodies, but to rise again – following the lead of Jesus, God’s glorious firstborn and first-risen – and live on forever in the City that will have no end. So the aspects of our nature that will one day perish are of considerably less importance than those that will never die. Jesus made clear, to those quarrelsome Sadducees, that the aspect of our identity that couples with that of another for reproduction will not last forever. And those who contend that, nonetheless, that aspect remains essential to our life in this world must answer to Jesus. Who led the perfect, sinless life – yet never took a wife or fathered a child.
Sex – and gender – serve strictly social and biological, and therefore temporal, functions. They should never be counted as of greater value than that of our humanity – the very essence of our likeness to God. Jesus was placed in the grave a thirtyish, male member of the Caucasian race, the Hebrew nation and the artisan/laboring socioeconomic class. He emerged from that tomb the ultimate, prototypical Resurrected Human: the ageless and eternal Child of God.
Heterosexuals fall in love with mates of the opposite sex, as we all know. For the sake of biological procreation, it is, of course, necessary that most people do this. But if they ever do grow to genuinely love their husbands or wives, it is certainly not just because they happen to be men or women. That very likely provides the initial attraction, but true love – even of the romantic kind – goes far deeper than initial attraction or chemical reaction. If that’s all that exists between them, then they love merely a temporary stage of another’s being, rather than the whole, eternal person.
Here is where the reactionary Right will argue that the maleness or femaleness of their spouses are essential parts of their personality. As long as they live on this earth, that very well may be true. But the great value they place on gender identity collides with their supposedly-cherished faith, showing the hypocrisy of the claim of many that they believe in Christ. We are who we are from the earliest days of our infancy (is this not, after all, why they oppose abortion?), yet at the start of our biological lives, we are totally devoid of a sex. We begin life without the clear distinction of being either male or female, and, as already shown (according to the very same Scriptures in which conservatives so often claim to believe), when we are reunited with the Source of our creation, we will, “like the angels,” be freed from the temporary constraints of sex and gender once more and forevermore.
It could very well be that gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people were created to remind the world of this. It’s something many, in their idolatrous value-system, are so prone to forget, yet it may be something God wants us to remember. And while it may be expedient (for the sake of reproduction) for most people to have been created heterosexual and cisgender, since reproduction is not by any means the highest purpose for which human beings were created, we ought never judge our entire worth strictly by that limited standard. God makes no mistakes, but since we make them all too often, perhaps we need all the reminders we can get.
While it is, certainly, more the norm – and quite expedient for human breeding – for men and women to fall in love with each other, it happens the other way (men with men and women with women) far too often to be quite as abnormal as many people claim. But while same-sex love disturbs the cozy little, temporal social order by which the Sadducees and Pharisees of this world today set so much store, reproduction gives every indication that – despite all the advances in LGBT rights – it will go on. Indeed, since God made men lovable and attractive, it is not really all that odd that some who appreciate that fact might be men, themselves. And since God made women with their own special allure, it can’t be too big a catastrophe for a few women to take special notice. God hardly needs our petty, neurotic little rules to keep His creation running the way He intended.
The rules of many legalists would require the dead to stay dead. It would upset their self-serving scheme of things, if those they wanted to stay dead should rise. Many of them set great store on the anticipation that everybody they don’t like will go to Hell. But life, death and judgment are the province not of humankind, but of God. On the Day of Reckoning, that trumpet may awaken our Pharisees, and the Sadducees, as well, to any number of surprises.
When it comes to the surprises God gives us, we are really better off being pleased. “Like the angels” may not be what some people bargained for. But it certainly beats the alternative of remaining our old, dead selves. Glory, hallelujah, we can rest assured that what God wants is what we are going to get.
© 2018 Lori Heine
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