This is the story of a weird Bible interpretation and the unexpected wisdom it holds for us today.
Recently I came across the gospel account of Jesus and a Jewish sect called the Sadducees. As the story goes, some of these Sadducees came to Jesus with a theological question: if a woman is married seven times, who exactly is her husband when the resurrection happens?
The way I read it, thereâ€™s a lot of chutzpah behind the question. Sadducees didnâ€™t believe in a resurrection, so this group was just trying to bait Jesus. I wouldnâ€™t have blamed him for rolling his eyes and walking away.
Instead, he gave them a straight answerâ€”starting with the actual question (â€œin the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriageâ€) and then countering their core belief. He defended the idea of the resurrection with an ingenious interpretation of Hebrew scripture.
But why did he bother? Why no eyeroll instead? I think the answer is in the last verse of this passage: â€œWhen the crowd heard [his answer], they were astonished at his teaching.â€
The crowd. There were other people there. If Jesus doesnâ€™t respond to the Sadducees, maybe the crowd members walk away with the idea that the Sadduceesâ€™ question is legit, that theyâ€™ve got the answer right. Maybe Jesus realizes he must put the truth out there, so the crowd can distinguish truth from cynicism.
That brings us to the Trump era.
Iâ€™ve written elsewhere about my partial timeout from conversation and dialogue. The tenor of U.S. public life for the past two yearsâ€”the coarseness, the viciousness, the bone-deep cynicism about every institutionâ€”left me wondering whether I needed a new way to be present to the world. From what Iâ€™ve heard and read, Iâ€™m not alone on this, not even close.
Many months into my timeout, Iâ€™m starting to think this â€œnew way to be presentâ€ has something to do with truth: speaking it, ferreting it out, committing ourselves to the idea anew.
(Iâ€™m definitely not alone on this. For a clear, eloquent, unblinking look at whatâ€™s been called the â€œpost-truth era,â€ check out this article.)
I still believe dialogue is terribly important. But in some types of dialogueâ€”especially those where facts play an important role, like political or scientific controversiesâ€”itâ€™s difficult to converse meaningfully when you canâ€™t even agree on the facts or, worse, when one person asserts facts and the other instantly cries â€œfake news.â€ Partners in these dialogues must agree to seek truth and accuracy, then come as close to finding them as they can.
A few to-dos can help us get closer to truth. We would do well, for example, to be more rigorous in checking the truth value of news stories, to â€œbalance our media dietâ€ with respected sources across the spectrum, to take time for reflection before we knee-jerk-react to the latest story. (I talk about some of this in my book about dialogue.) We can be more willing to acknowledge the shortcomings of our own sideâ€”and give our adversaries grace to do the same.
We can also find ways to open our hearts. A wide-open heart relaxes our iron gripâ€”our attachment, in Buddhist termsâ€”to things other than the Ultimate (God, One, Reality, Emptiness, whatever term you use). That, in turn, frees us not only to pursue truth, but also to love everyone regardless of what they believe.
This seems important. If Iâ€™m reading that gospel lesson correctly, there are times when letting cynicism go unchallenged could be corrosive to our social fabric. Now feels like one of those times. Jesusâ€™ example may be relevant in ways Iâ€™d ever imagined.