A Shift in Focus

At the resurrection whose wife will she be, since the seven were married to her?”
Jesus replied, “Are you not in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God? When the dead rise, they will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven. Now about the dead rising—have you not read in the Book of Moses, in the account of the burning bush, how God said to him, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not the God of the dead, but of the living. You are badly mistaken!” – Mark 12:23-27

This was supposed to be a trap. They wanted Jesus to admit the absurdity of the resurrection. The people who questioned Jesus did not believe in it. They did not believe in the life after death. For them, there exists only one reality which can be perceived by the senses. They came to this conclusion by a literal reading of scripture. They were the fundamentalists of Jesus’ time. These people still exist today. They are not the fundamentalist Christians. Today they call themselves different names. They are rationalists, secularists, and materialists. Each age has a different name for them. Their thoughts and ideas are not new. Nevertheless they still prevalent and influential. Many hold their views without even knowing it. In Jesus’ time, these opinions were held by the Sadducees. They only believed in the first five books of the Bible and since most of the Old Testament does not explicitly mention anything about life after death, they refused to acknowledge any possibility of such a notion.

The Sadducees brought a problem to Jesus and wanted him to give a solution. They thought that any solution that Jesus would propose would be unsatisfactory. They wanted to show how the concept of resurrection was incompatible with this reality. To their surprise, Jesus agreed with them. Resurrection cannot be comprehended with the values and principles of this existence. It ushers in something new. It presents a new way of looking at our reality.

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! “(2 Corinthians 5:17)

I was recently listening to a British comedian, Eddie Izzard, and in one of his routines he talked about Moses. Izzard, being an atheist, pointed out the absurdity of someone doing something because a bush told him to do. He is right. If someone wrote to me and said that she wanted to work in our ministry because her stove told her do so, I would recommend that she seek some help. I would not make her my leader like in the case of Moses. However, Moses did not speak to a bush. The bush pointed him to a new reality. The bush was a symbol that drew Moses to something greater than itself or even himself. Jesus used this as argument for the resurrection. He addressed Himself as the God of the deeper and more profound reality that moved Abraham, Isaac and Jacob to see beyond what was presented to them by their senses. They walked against the so-called common sense of their generation. This new reality put them at odds with their families and society. It radically changed the way they interacted in this world.

The early church members sold everything and lived in common. They were not communist or socialist, such notions did not even exist. These were not celibates or monks. They were regular people with families. They had regular jobs and some even had great properties. According to the standards of this world, they would be considered irresponsible. According to the New Creation, they were acting like the people of the resurrected Christ. They did not do this to make a social statement. They did this because their notion of life had changed radically. The resurrected Christ changed everything. He changed the nature of family. Complete strangers now became family to them. They no longer pursued wealth and power. They dedicated themselves to the service of God. Eventually some serious conflicts arose from this attempt. It was inevitable. The new creation has to function within the old. The old values came to haunt the early church and consequently caused much tension and distress. Much of the writings of the New Testament record the struggle of the community of the Resurrected Christ trying to live out the new creation in the materialistic world. If we find their struggles strange, maybe it is because we don’t have the same understanding they had of the resurrection. Maybe they can teach us something valuable that we have lost.

When Jesus told the sadducees that the physical resurrection is going to change the nature of our relationship with the opposite sex, it was a truly radical concept then and now. Jesus said that we would be like angels. Unfortunately, this has been trivialized by infantile imaginings of the dead growing wings and playing harps in the clouds, not to mention the sentimental hollywood pseudo-theology that has contaminated our thinking. Jesus is, in fact, saying that the resurrection changes our basic concept of relationships in this world.

The male-female relationship is a basic relationship. Even current times with dialogues and openness about alternative lifestyles cannot alter the reality of this basic relationship model. All relationships stem out from this foundational relationship. In our reality, this relationship has only been sexualized. Our cultural and societal values evolved based on a sexualized concept of this foundational relationship. Jesus has shaken this foundation with the Resurrection. It is no longer based on sexual or reproductive roles but on the new creation that Jesus ushers into our reality. One of the implications of this radical shift is reflected in the concept of the family in the New Testament. It was no longer limited to blood-family ties. Paul was the forerunner of this concept.

“Even if you had ten thousand guardians in Christ, you do not have many fathers, for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel.” 1 Corinthians 4:15

Paul tried to live out the radical implication of the Resurrection. It doesn’t mean that he did it perfectly. If we are only looking for someone perfect, then Paul would not be the right person. We won’t find anyone perfect except for Jesus in the Bible. However, if we want to find someone who struggled to understand the broadness and depth of the Resurrection, then Paul is a good role model. He was limited by his cultural and social upbringing and yet he was an apostle and a father to the people whom he was taught from infancy to despise. He became the spiritual father to the Gentiles. This was a radical shift that only the reality of the resurrection could bring.

When God calls us to serve, whether it is in Brazil or in our local neighborhood, God is calling us to discover the reality of the resurrection. I have to point out that we would miss a great opportunity of knowing the power and wonder of the New Creation if we reduce Christian ministry to social work or just doing some charitable work. Christian ministry is a ministry that introduces the values of the resurrected reality into this world. It breaks the boundaries between us and them. We go into the world to receive and embrace strangers as family members. It is not something that will happen automatically. We are still living in the old creation. The values of the old creation are dominant here. It is hard for people to see something beyond the reality before them.

We have been here a little over two years. After two years of talking and spending time with the children and teens, they are beginning to see beyond our games and the art work we do with them. Recently, Gabriel, a fourteen year old, complained that we were not passing by during the weekend. The others joined in and said that they wanted us to spend more time with them. In reality, we have been spending more time with them than before. Some older teens have taken us aside and talked about their relationship problems with us: the kind of stuff one would talk about with one’s parent. They are figuring out that we are more than social workers. We realize that we want to become a family to the children and teens. However, it is a new kind of family. It is the family of the New Creation. There are no manuals or books written about this kind of family. The instructions on how to become this family are being written on a daily basis in our hearts by the Holy Spirit.

We cannot prove the Resurrection is true with persuasive arguments but we can live its reality and invite others to join us in this new reality.

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8 thoughts on “A Shift in Focus

  1. I appreciate these thoughts and what you do. Praying for you and those with whom you work, that the same power that raised Jesus from the dead would be manifestly at work in all your lives.

  2. I’m a big fan of Galations 3:28 – “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” We are all one in Christ Jesus!

    Continued prayers for you and the kids!
    Elizabeth

  3. Reading your stories alongside the scripture you cite helps me to see your work and the work I might do in a new light. Still, it’s intimidating to consider embracing the radical transformation of the Resurrection, as you have. Thank you for inspiring so many of us to understand and get real with our faith. And thank you for being with the children and teens in São Paulo and sharing these profound experiences with us!

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