Wrestling with Assumptions

Twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost
Deuteronomy 34:1-12
Matthew 22:34-46
When I first read the texts for this week, I began salivating at the opportunity to hit on all cylinders of my social justice values, liberation theologies, and “preferential option for the poor” interpretations. So I was gleefully typing away at my manifesto when suddenly this week’s text from Leviticus stopped me cold. Particularly verse 15 where it says, “you shall not be partial to the poor.” In that moment I had to stop and wrestle, once again, with who I claim God to be.

I won’t bore you with the details of my own heart’s ponderings about the poor, nor will I pound you with my own progressive manifesto—instead, I will invite you, as Brian Volck did in last week’s reflection, to join with me in our common struggle to properly name our living God.

This is precisely what the Sadducees are doing in the passage which precedes our Gospel text for this week. They ask Jesus their big question about God – the one which, according to Matthew, defines them as a group. They present a logical argument based on their understanding of the Jewish texts, which, given their unbelief in resurrection, creates an impossible conundrum. Jesus responds by revealing something about God which challenges their assumptions, saying, “God is not the God of the dead but of the living.”

The Sadducees go off to chew on this, and we arrive at our Gospel text for the week where the Pharisees are asking their own big, group-defining question: Which of the commandments in the Law is most important? Jesus, in a slight aberration from his normal modus operandi answers their question directly, and then goes on to reveal something about God which challenges their underlying suppositions—and therefore their understanding of the answer he has just given.

What are your big, group-defining assumptions about God?

In the Wesleyan tradition to which I subscribe, many of our assumptions are bound up in our ideas of holiness, both social and personal. In my particular church context, many of our assumptions are bound up in our musings about the Eucharist and Baptism. And in my daily life, my assumptions are often bound up in my own ideas of inclusion and liberation.

We must remember, however, that these assumptions about God are not, in fact, God. When we hold on to them too tightly, we are the Pharisees and the Sadducees. We are unable to discern that God is moving among us right now, or worse, we commit idolatry by mistaking something else for the God of the living. If, however, we choose to remain teachable, like the crowds who are watching these exchanges, then we will be astonished at the abundant goodness of our uncontainable God.

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