Resurrection as Economic Disruption
Mark 12: 18-27
This week, I attended a seminar about sociological analysis of scientists and their faith, at St Edmunds College. And one of the questions afterwards – was whether, Christian academics in universities were equally represented across the range of academic disciplines. The answer was yes – with one notable exception – the one discipline that had noticeably fewer practising Christians in it, than all the others. Which discipline? For all those who know the answer to be Law, you’re quite mistaken. It was, in fact, Economics!
Perhaps, then, Economics has been an apt subject for a term’s worth of sermons in a college chapel. Various fellows of the college have offered sermons that highlighted and addressed different economic issues. And trying to draw those issues together with a look at how resurrection effects economic disruption.
In the first instance, there were a religious group reported in the gospels, who did not believe in the resurrection: the Sadducees. And it is sometimes said this is precisely why, they were sad-you-see. But the reason that the Sadducees did not believe, was not that they had a greater capacity for critical reasoning than their contemporaries. It was because they were the religious and political liberals, that they disbelieved in resurrection. It was the exact opposite: the Sadducees were not guardian-reading, open-minded, tree-hugging liberals at all. The Sadducees had the Daily Telegraph delivered to their Kensington Residences, situated somewhere on the southern side of Jerusalem. They had money, influence and power. And if you have those things, the last thing you want – is resurrection.
Because resurrection is not simply a conjuring trick with bones. In first century Judea, resurrection entailed revolution – a new era, when justice would displace unrighteousness, when the nation of Israel would no longer be the victim of imperial bullying at the hands of Rome, and when the poorest members of Jewish society would find themselves empowered. Resurrection meant revolution – disruption to the current order of things, and if you happen to be doing very nicely thank you very much, from the current order things – you don’t want resurrection.
So the Sadducees were not the intellectual liberals, they were the political conservatives. In fact, they were so conservative that the only biblical books they recognized as authoritative – were the books of Moses – the first five books of our modern bibles. Anything from the prophets – those naughty trouble-makers asking for unrealistic and troublesome things like justice, did not feature in the bible of the Sadducees. In fact, you notice that whenever Jesus addresses them, he’s careful himself only to quote from those first five books of the bible. The Sadducees did not believe in resurrection because it didn’t simply mean people rising from the dead in some unimaginable MGM fantasy future – but because it entailed radical, political revolution.
And here, in this story about a ridiculous succession of what-if deaths, the Sadducee’s concerns are clearly highlighted. The notion of hereditary succession – which remained crucial to the way that they understand power and wealth to function. No, the Sadducees rightly understood that belief in the resurrection meant economic disruption. And that was one thing they were not open.
Openness, it seems, is a cardinal virtue. In Christian circles, how open is it possible to be? In the catholic tradition, I suppose there is one infallible person to whom disciples should remain open. In the evangelical tradition to which I belong – there are three infallible figures: Jesus Christ, the Apostle Paul, and me! I’m not sure if it’s coincidence, but most of us happen to agree with the views that we hold. But, it’s okay – because we Christians like to be challenged. The language of being challenged is everywhere – if a supervisor describes an essay as ‘challenging’ – it probably wasn’t meant as a compliment. When Christian pue-fillers describe a valiant pulpeteer as challenging – it is as great a compliment as can be offered.
Christians know that they have to be open to challenge – open for their worldview to be disrupted by the voice of God. The trouble is, in reality – although the language of challenge fills our churches, it tends to be a fairly domesticated kind of challenge. We only like to be challenged in certain ways – and there is a certain micro-masochistic delight for Christians who feel they have felt the pin-prick of challenge. That they have been made to think a little, or try harder at being good, or live holier lives or do any of those things which we already assume will make us a better person. But none of this is being challenged in any substantive sense. All these challenges can be in strict accord with the kind of challenge we like to receive.
To be issued a challenge, is an invitation to a life-threatening encounter. It is like being tossed a hand-grenade with the pin removed. If we have decided in advance precisely how we want to be challenged – there can be no challenge. And that, in effect, makes us like the Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection.
Because whatever else resurrection means – as it affects who we are today, it is the capacity to be broken down and remade in our encounter with God. To believe in the resurrection, is to expose our entire ethical framework, our hopes and dreams and aims and goals – all to be exposed to who God is. It means, to have our economic and financial commitments exposed to a God who has brings justice for people living under oppression and poverty. It affects the relationship between my credit card and my wardrobe – as well as my attempt to give up swearing.
And this is something that has been touched on by each of the preachers we have heard this term:
Kimberly Jenne, spoke of how deeply shaped and closed our worldview can become at the hands of advertisers.
Professor Judy Lieu spoke about a similar shift in worldview, when we take the biblical concept of Jubilee at all seriously.
Ross Reason spoke about the most radical level of giving – which to apply, would realistically requires a massive shift in the mind-set of most of us – but one that would not be impossible for anyone who says, “I believe in the resurrection.”
Professor Morna Hooker highlighted the sheer weight of demands made by John the Baptist – which could lead us to despair, were they not issued in light of a coming Messiah who would make renewal possible.
Dr Mark Hayes spoke of a rebuilding a system of trade built upon justice – offering a glimpse of how this might look in our world today.
Throughout this series, whether at the personal or the political level, has been the recognition that economic justice requires something of a shift in worldview. And the doctrine of the resurrection says, that this is virtually impossible. Getting anyone to change their mind about something that matters to them, requires nothing short of a miracle.
To inhabit a radically different view of the world requires nothing less than what Professor Hooker called a change of direction – the direction in which our lives our heading. And that is a major demand for anyone.
But … to say that we believe in the resurrection, is to declare that we are ready undergo a mini-baptism everyday – to declare that we are ready to be broken down and remade by the God who, in Christ, makes all things new.