“What you don’t know won’t hurt you!” Really? I’ve found that, sometimes, what I don’t know hurts me pretty bad.
But what’s worse is misunderstanding what I actually do know. In fact, I have misunderstood some things I thought I knew so bad that I might as well not known it at all! And that, dear ones, is a deadly combination: to think you know something but get it so completely wrong you discover you really never knew it at all!
Now, let’s apply this to our faith, and you get the real tragedy of discovery that what you say you believe isn’t what you truly believe at all. The Church doesn’t pull any punches this week. The first three days of Holy Week set us right in the middle of the Lord’s final teachings and attempts to break through the “religious” misbelieving leaders of the Lord’s day in one, final attempt to dislodge their misplaced confidence in their own pride. The Holy Scriptures allows us to eavesdrop on the Lord’s straightforward teaching during the days where He cleansed the Temple of the money-changers, warns His disciples that dark days are coming, and reaches out even to us to learn from their mistakes and avoid the ruin that came to these folks who really didn’t know what they thought they knew! It turns out ignorance really isn’t bliss!
Look at our Gospel Lesson today in Matthew 22:15-46; 23:1-39. We won’t quote the whole passage, but you should take the time to read the whole thing. We’ll focus on Matthew 22:23-33:
The same day the Sadducees came to him, who say that there is no resurrection; and they asked him a question saying, “Teacher, Moses said, ‘If a man dies, having no children, his brother must marry the widow, and raise up children for his brother.’ Now there were seven brothers among us; the first married, and died, and having no children left his wife to his brother. So too the second and third, down to the seventh. After them all, the woman died. In the resurrection, therefore, to which of the seven will she be wife? For they all had her.”
But Jesus answered them, “You are wrong, because you know neither the scriptures nor the power of God. For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven. And as for the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was said to you by God, ‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob?’ He is not God of the dead, but of the living. ” And when the crowd heard it, they were astonished at his teaching.
There’s an old joke about these religious leaders called the Sadducees. You see, the Sadducees didn’t believe in the resurrection – that’s why they were “sad, you see.” I know, pretty corny but effective in showing the theological poverty of these theologians. These religious leaders who were members of the Sadducee group were usually the wealthiest and the most education. They were the elite of their day and they didn’t believe in all that “miracle” stuff. They were offended by the teachings of Jesus precisely because they thought Him beneath them with His teachings about eternal life.
But they were put in their place by the Lord’s plain teachings and had to admit, they had no answer for Him.
Above this section the Lord had also silenced the Pharisees. They were the second party in leadership among the Jews and they believed in the resurrection of the dead and miracles, but they, too, were offended by the Lord’s teachings because He laid bear their hypocrisy.
All these religious leaders thought they knew the faith and, because of their self-centered lives, even what they thought they knew did them no good when confronted with God in the Flesh right before their eyes! Their religious knowledge turned out to be no knowledge at all!
Today, as we continue our journey with the Lord as He makes His way to the cross, the tomb, and to His third day rising, we, too, must be willing to be confronted by our own shallow knowing that is no knowing at all. We are called by the intensity of Holy Week, of these prayers, these liturgies, these worship times, to see clearly our own distance from true knowledge that always leads to a deeper devotion, a deeper love, and a deeper faith. If what we believe, or better, what we say we believe, isn’t producing this kind of deeper life, we must not make the same mistake of these religious leaders in thinking we can destroy the Lord and be freed from our poverty. Nothing could be further from the truth. No, even if we succeed in silencing that nagging voice in our hearts warning us of our poverty, we will only destroy ourselves, never Him. On this Holy Tuesday, it’s time to hear clearly that God is the God of the living, not of the dead. Are you alive in Christ? Are you Orthodox on Purpose?