Perhaps you have seen the 1954 movie musical, “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers”. Great dance scenes. Well in our Gospel we have something similar, but different. We hear a story of ONE bride for seven brothers. Seven brothers, following the injunction in Deuteronomy chapter 25, each marry this woman and then he dies childless. Finally, this lady with the strong constitution ups and dies.
This creates a problem for the Sadducees. Actually, not a problem but rather an opportunity for them to put Jesus on the spot. The Sadducees – unlike the Pharisees - did not believe in the resurrection of the body. You died and pzzzt, that’s it. So they bring this strange case of one woman with seven husbands to confuse and confound Jesus. “Now at the resurrection whose wife will that woman be? For all seven had been married to her." //
Are these guys serious? Are they so convinced that they know how eternity and resurrection work that they think this is a serious problem for God? Don’t they understand that eternity is going to be different than how things are now? What is wrong with these guys?
Well, what is wrong with them is that they have no imagination. They think eternity will be just like life is here and now, and so they are stumped by this odd – and rather silly – question: “whose wife will that woman be?”
Imagination is a very important, and often undervalued, faculty. Sometimes we dismiss it: “Oh, is only a figment of your imagination.” “you’re just imagining things.” And so on. And we consider imagination only important for daydreaming, artists, wishful thinking, and in general other non-productive pursuits.
But I hold that a good imagination is essential to being a religious person, and in particular a Christian. It is not only those Sadducees that lacked a religious imagination. Often enough I think that we do too.
Too often we think we know what God wants, how God reacts to every situation, and especially what God ought to do about it. We know exactly what God should be doing about every aspect of our lives.
But God is mystery. God has options that we cannot even imagine. God is not bound in any way by our “ought’s”. And then when things do not go the way we expect God to handle them, we either are disappointed in God, or we begin to question if God really exists.
We need great imagination to expand our concept of how God acts. That we do not see the results we expect does not so much mean that God has failed us, as that we have failed to imagine a great enough freedom for God to act in surprising and unforeseen ways.
Even in the natural world we need imagination to understand what is. Cosmologists tell us that all the billions of galaxies we see, each with billions of stars and even more planets, all that makes up less than 5% of what is actually out there. The rest, more than 95% of the total, is dark matter and dark energy. They call it dark because they have no idea what the heck it is. They just know that something’s there. Without imagination you cannot even begin to get a correct idea of what the universe is like. This is why Albert Einstein stated that “Imagination is more important than knowledge.”
Many of you university students will spend most of your career in jobs that don’t yet exist today. Without imagination you will never succeed.
The amount of technical information is doubling every two years. This means that for students in a technical four year degree program, half of what they learn in their first year will be out of date by their third year. In such a fluid situation imagination is essential.
With all these possibilities and rapid changes, you need imagination to approach and prepare for the future, just in the everyday, practical world.
In the life of the spirit imagination is even more essential. Imagination opens us up to new and larger possibilities. Because what God the Father wants for you is much greater than you can reason; even much greater than what you can imagine. God did not send you God’s most precious Beloved, God’s own Son, just so you can be “reasonably happy and moderately comfortable.” The love beyond all telling compels our imaginations to work overtime to grasp even the feeblest hint of the glory that awaits us, and all the love God wants to pour out on us.
In the words of the French essayist, Joseph Jouber, “Imagination is the eye of the soul.” Or more concretely in the words of Lauren Bacall, “Imagination is the highest kite that one can fly.”
Let your imagination soar! Your imagination is a precious gift, given to you by God to reach for things beyond the grasp of our knowledge and experience. The God of mystery is both here in the concrete AND in the beyond, where imagination helps us comprehend God’s greatness and goodness.