[W]ho am I, and what is my people, that we should be able to make this freewill-offering? For all things come from you [O Lord], and of your own have we given you.
Hopefully some of you recognize this piece of Scripture because I use it as an offertory before Holy Communion from time-to-time. But beyond recognizing it, you may be wondering, what on earth does this farewell prayer of King David’s have to do with the readings of Scripture appointed for today? Well that’s a good question, and the answer would be nothing and everything. Nothing directly but everything in that it’s David’s response to a divine corrective received a few years before. Beyond this, it’s also a summary of our lessons for today.
The abridged version of our reading from Luke is this: a good argument against the resurrection gets refuted by Jesus. Perhaps I should elaborate a bit more.
The context for this story from Luke is the Sadducees, who are among the politically powerful wealthy elite, and they operate the Temple, which gives them a powerful religious base of operations. As such they dominate religious and political life within the bounds allowed by the Roman empire. In this tenuous setting a lot of people – including the Sadducees – are likely concerned Jesus is threatening their livelihood; thus they are suspicious of much of what Jesus represents.
To be fair, the Sadducees have the misfortune of being made out to be bad guys over the millennia through interpretations of Scripture that tend to reveal more about our cultural and social biases than they do facts about the Sadducees. Thus I think we read more into their differences as presented in this Gospel than Jesus likely intends as he uses them simply as a foil to make a point – a point about how preoccupation with worldly – including religious – concerns can cause us to miss out on participation in the fullness of life that Jesus has to offer.
The Sadducees’ strict adherence to – or preoccupation with – the teachings of the first five books of the Bible, and their assertion that resurrection was not taught within these books is what makes them a perfect foil for Jesus. Literally speaking, the Sadducees are correct, resurrection is not compatible with “the law” [Torah] as they read it. But Jesus points out a flaw within their narrow view by citing God’s revelation of God’s self to Moses in the burning bush as an exception to their understanding. God says to Moses, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” Not I was, not I will be, but I am. Present tense. Here God is asserting God’s presence among the Patriarchs still, centuries after their earthly death.
Jesus isn’t trying to make the Sadducees look bad here, that’s not the point; if it were we would all look really bad because we all have our issues that keep us more often preoccupied than participating.
The Sadducees are just doing what Rabbis do. They like to play stump the Rabbi, they pose a conundrum to see how the Rabbi will get out of it – to see if his answer stands up to scriptural scrutiny. And Jesus does not disappoint as he points beyond their narrow or preoccupied view to reveal what they are failing to participate in – another vision of life in the present and to come.
So what is the point? I think the point is to answer the two-part question posed by David, “[W]ho am I, and what is my people, …?” In the Old Testament reading, in the Epistle, and in the Gospel we find people who are so preoccupied with their worldly concerns, such as preserving the status quo, or ensuring their security – that they are missing out on the fullness of life that embraces the abundance presence of God in their midst. I am one of these people too because I am a human being and this is what my people are. When confronted with the anxious realities of life our survival instinct to preserve what we have kicks in.
Yet the question continues, “… that we should be able to make this freewill-offering?” There are two parts here: “we should be able” – but how? By invitation to participation – an invitation presented in all three readings today: an invitation by the prophet Haggai to participate in prosperity; an invitation by God to participate in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ; and an invitation by Jesus to participate in resurrected life.
This is all well and good, but how do we reconcile our anxious tendencies and such gracious invitations to participate in God’s abundance? The surprising answer is found in the final part of the question, “… make this freewill-offering.” As opposed to required offerings, which were periodic obligations mandated by “the law”, the freewill-offering is entirely voluntary and is the fruit of gratitude expressed in response to the recognition of the source of abundant blessings we enjoy as the people of God.
“For all things come from you [O Lord], and of your own have we given you.” This notion that God is the source of all that we have comes from the biblical understanding that everything we have is ultimately derived in some fashion from creation. In today’s lessons this is most strongly emphasized in Haggai where God asserts God’s sovereignty over all creation and wealth, and God’s intention to give prosperity.
The Epistle and the Gospel do not make specific claims about the source of all that we have or prosperity per se, but they and the Old Testament lesson are clear about the source of the promise of eternal life, and they call us to claim and practice participation in the promise precisely because this practice is challenging in the face of our preoccupying practicalities. Our acceptance of this challenge – this spiritual exercise – with “our possessions” will result in a stretching and growth of our spirit, and in this practice we will be lead to an increased awareness of God’s presence and abundance in our lives, where we will learn the answer to the question, “Who am I?”
 1 Chronicles 29:14 – from David’s farewell prayer