Respecting Our Bodies
Respecting Our Bodies
Our passage from Matthew’s gospel today discusses issues of marriage and the resurrection. On the surface this seems an easy enough passage from scripture to deal with. Some of the outcomes might be upsetting as we wrestle with what Jesus means when he talks about our lives at the time of resurrection. However, when we consider this passage in our own context it takes on deeper meaning when we consider the autonomy of our bodies.
Scripture: Luke 20: 27-38
Respecting Our Bodies
In the second season of Star Trek: The Next Generation there is an episode entitled The Measure of a Man. An episode of the show that many say that if you only watch one episode of this entire show, watch this one. The crux of the episode is that the personhood of Data has come into question. For those not familiar with Star Trek, Data is an android. An artificial intelligence placed in a machine, who resembles a man. For fans of the show Data is a much loved character and I think most people though they know the character is a construct, view him as human. He acts as a foil in many of the episodes, questioning the motives of other characters.
In this particular episode a request has come through to examine Data, to deconstruct him. With the aim that more ‘Data’s’ could be created. The worry is that Data may not survive the process. A legal trial is called and it falls on Captain Picard played by Patrick Stewart to defend Data. At a recess in the trial there is a very powerful scene between Picard and a character called Guinan.
The dialogue of that conversation is as follows:
Guinan: Consider that in the history of many worlds, there have always been disposable creatures. They do the dirty work. They do the work that no one else wants to do because it’s too difficult or too hazardous. And an army of Datas, all disposable… You don’t have to think about their welfare, you don’t think about how they feel. Whole generations… of disposable people.
Picard: You’re talking about slavery.
Picard: I don’t think that’s a little harsh, I think that’s the truth. But that’s a truth that we have obscured behind a… comfortable, easy euphemism: “Property”. But that’s not the issue at all, is it?
What, you might be wondering, does a Sci-Fi show that is discussing slavery have to do with our passage from Luke today? Actually, quite a bit.
I might ask you how you interpret this text? What leaps to mind? Where do you get stuck when you read this passage? For a lot of people it’s the multiple marriages of the unnamed women in the passage. Does she really need to marry her husbands’ brother should he die young? And again and again. According to Torah, and the patriarchal society of the time, yes. We might get stuck there.
We might get stuck with the question of the resurrection. What does Jesus mean about the resurrection, that we aren’t married? What happens to our families in the resurrection? The answer that Jesus gives leaves me a little uncomfortable on that point.
I’ll give it to the Sadducees, they really know how to stir the pot up.
Now I’m going to let you in on a little secret. Many ancient and many contemporary theological debates offer little relevance for life on planet earth. The question the Sadducees ask should be a non-starter. What I’m trying to say and what Jesus addresses is that the question the Sadducees ask, maybe isn’t the question we need to be discussing. What we should be talking about is why they are asking the question in the first place. Afterall, they don’t believe in the resurrection so why should they care about whose wife the woman is?
Let’s hit this from another angle. The question the Sadducees ask, whose wife will the woman be, is a question that stems from the patriarchy of Jesus’ day about an event they didn’t even believe in. It is a question designed to trick Jesus, and he will have no part in that. However, it is also a question about the autonomy of a women’s body and we need to be careful about what we say about that. Professor Emerson Powery writes, “Sadly, but true in all patriarchal societies (ancient and modern), the female body often becomes the place of theological regulation.” (Working Preacher)
In biblical times women were considered the property of the patriarch of the family. Wife, daughter, unmarried sister. Didn’t matter. The question the Sadducees ask is one of ownership, which we need to be careful with. Because we don’t live in those times and yet the ideas of patriarchy and male privilege still exist. Which means I need to be careful and have done my best to be thoughtful about what I am saying today.
In the 1960s the Presbyterian Church in Canada made a decision about whether women could be ordained as Teaching Elders, as Ministers of Word and Sacrament. Essentially, the question they asked is whether a woman could stand in this pulpit and preach. Could woman be equals to men in the church. The denomination said yes, though there were those who disagreed. There are still people today inside our denomination and in other denominations who disagree with this equality amongst the genders inside the church.
At its heart, this is a question about women’s place in the church. A question not about their intellect or ability, but about their bodies. Returning to Emerson Powery he writes, “When one looks at the present life through the lens of the next life, the present world looks differently. Old beliefs may not apply. What theological ideas do we still have in place that displace and disregard the bodies of people?” – Emerson Powery (Working Preacher)
That is a powerful question full of implications. What theological ideas do we still have in place that displace and disregard the bodies of people?
Think about children and how they are included and excluded, how they are welcomed in churches. Not just this one, but in all churches. Think about how you respond when a baby cries during the sermon.
Think about individuals with disabilities. Are they able to navigate worship, access the building and participate fully in the life of the church? Which is the life of the kingdom of God.
Think about First Nations peoples. The legacy of Residential Schools and the place of First Nations people within the church and Canadian society at large. Where do your thoughts go?
Think about LGBTQI individuals and the debates and discussions this denomination has had about the issue of gay, lesbian, transgendered, queer and intersexed people and their bodies and the place they have in the church. Remember that the ‘issue’ we discuss has a human face.
What theological ideas do we still have in place that displace and disregard the bodies of people?
I ask you what difference does the argument of the Sadducees, whose wife will the woman be, make for an embodied faith? How does that question help you live your life faithfully? It doesn’t. What is the relationship of that question between God and life?
This is a passage about religious and secular authorities exercising their power over a women’s body. In the patriarchal society that existed women were considered property. Jesus turns the argument of the Sadducees on its head. He says to them it doesn’t work that way. Why are you talking about this?
Jesus doesn’t even answer the question about who the widow belongs to in the resurrection. He only states that in this life people get married. That’s the end of his comment on the question of who owns the ‘property’ of the widow.
Friends, God is a god of the living. There are no exclusions on that. Those of us living today and on that wonderful day of resurrection, God is the god of the living. All of us. No exclusions.
Do not let your theology get in the way of Jesus. Do not let being right get in the way of the widow, orphan and stranger. Don’t let the law rule your heart so hard that grace has no room to grow and flourish. If not for grace we would all be lost. If God followed our harsh interpretation of the law there never would have been cause for Jesus to walk this earth.
God is a god of the living and we must be careful how we discuss each other, how we use language to manipulate and divide. This text provides a warning that our bodies were created by God, in God’s image and that God calls all of us to live full lives. Whether we are talking about a crying baby, the disabled, First Nations, LGBTQI individuals, the homeless, the successful lawyer, the individual holding down three jobs and still unable to pay the bills or a lonely widow, we are talking about the living and their bodies and that matters to God. And friends I tell you that the living are feeling oppressed, exploited, hungry, homeless, abused, overworked, lonely, addicted, despairing and many of the living who are feeling this way are sitting in this sanctuary today. And many who are feeling this way are wandering outside those doors. (Working Preacher)
Look around you, don’t be so harsh on each other. Don’t let your theology get in the way of Jesus. Don’t let being right get in the way of the widow, orphan and stranger. Our bodies are more than just property, as children of God we are more than that. And don’t let the need to have an answer to a question that probably doesn’t matter, inhibit your ability to share God’s love, grace and mercy. Amen.
St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church
St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, Cobourg is part of the Presbyterian Church in Canada. The congregation was established in 1833 and continues to serve the community.