Some of the Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to Jesus with a question. “Teacher,” they said, “Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies and leaves a wife but no children, the man must marry the widow and raise up offspring for his brother. Now there were seven brothers. The first one married a woman and died childless. The second and then the third married her, and in the same way the seven died, leaving no children. Finally, the woman died too. Now then, at the resurrection whose wife will she be, since the seven were married to her?” Jesus replied, “The people of this age marry and are given in marriage. But those who are considered worthy of taking part in the age to come and in the resurrection from the dead will neither marry nor be given in marriage,and they can no longer die; for they are like the angels. They are God’s children, since they are children of the resurrection. But in the account of the burning bush, even Moses showed that the dead rise, for he calls the Lord ‘the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’ He is not the God of the dead, but of the living, for to him all are alive.” Some of the teachers of the law responded, “Well said, teacher!” And no one dared to ask him any more questions. (NIV)
Good Monday! This is not a passage for a groggy Monday morning! There is a reason many pastors take Monday off. After doing services all Sunday morning and then whatever church responsibilities and family events fill up a Sunday (for me it was the congregational meeting to elect council members, the quilters had a quilt tying session hoping to attract other helpers to this ministry), a hospital visit, a little grocery shopping and then fixing a special dinner to honor a colleague who died… it was a full day. My brain is fried after a day like that. And then to get up this morning and have this text staring me in the face??? Ugh!
But never fear, good readers. When God calls us to something, God supplies the way to achieve it.
This text has a main point and lots of details that could easily distract us from that main point. The fact is, in the story, they are supporting the main point, but they take the long way around to do so. In my family, we call that “taking the scenic route.” There are some Sadducees that take the scenic route to try to get a dig in at Jesus. They are not successful, of course, but they give it a go. Let’s look at this a little closer.
The Sadducees, as a group, don’t believe in the resurrection of the dead. They are consistent with most of the Hebrew Scriptures. There is talk of Sheol in the Hebrew Scriptures, the underworld, the place of the dead, but there is no sense that there is life there. In their understanding, once you are dead you disappear to Sheol and there is nothing left but your memory on earth and the legacy of your progeny. The idea of life after death was “imported” from the Persians during the reign of King Cyrus and King Darius during the time when Daniel was enduring the Babylonian exile. It was a controversy in Judaism, even in Jesus’ day. The Sadducees were the purists; the conservatives, if you will. They would not accept new ideas into an old faith. The Pharisees were more liberal on that matter. They had accepted this new teaching and incorporated it into their understanding of the faith. There was always friction between the two groups, and this was only one of the reasons why.
So you see, it is ingenuous that the Sadducees are asking a question about the specifics of life in the life to come. They are not interested in the answer. They are interested in trapping Jesus. That ‘gotcha mentality’ has no place in the community of the faithful. They expose themselves as the politicos they are. They aren’t about an authentic, humble relationship with God. They use God for their own ends. They are sleazy in this regard. They come up with this crazy hypothetical situation that is beyond not realistic. Think about it. If it were true, it would be most tragic. The woman had to be quite young, which would not have been outside the realm of reality, but still. She is married. Her husband dies. She goes through the mourning period. She is betrothed to the first brother. Then they are married. How long are they married? Does he die very quickly? How many years does it take to go through this process with seven brothers? This is all so she can have a son to take care of her when she is old. (The husband is providing for her now.) She is probably old by the time she gets to the seventh husband! There is no baby, but there is also no time for a baby to grow up before she needs him!
The Sadducees are pressing Jesus, but they aren’t impressing him. Jesus readily sees through this and is not distracted. He gives them a non-answer. They are asking the wrong question. In the life to come, relationships are different from here. There is intimacy in a whole different way. We are one with all people in the life to come (even as we are joined with all people here, but we aren’t as aware of it.) The good in each soul binds us together there. We will not be married or given in marriage there. We will be beyond marriage. But in his non-answer to the question, Jesus is denying the Sadducees’ authority. They have it wrong about the life to come. Eventually they can’t say any more. Jesus has won the debate.
So the take-away for today from this story is this… the life here and the life to come are both all about living in harmony one with another. There is no benefit gained from an argumentative approach to life. Look for what we have in common. Look for how we can build each other up. We all benefit when we do. God is God whether we sort out exactly how God ‘works’ or not. And I believe we are worse off from trying to sort out all the details of how God ‘works.’ We call it doctrine. It is helpful to talk about, discuss, ponder, but it is not worth dividing over. It is not important enough to hate each other over, because you see, we can’t ever get it right. God is beyond our ability to contain within the language parameters we have. God is beyond our ability to describe or even to understand. We can only relate to God. We can trust God. We can rely on God. But we cannot understand God. Accepting that makes it a whole lot easier to accept God on God’s terms.
Blessings on your day,
Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.