23 That same day Sadducees, who deny that there is a resurrection, came to Jesus. 24 They asked, “Teacher, Moses said, If a man who doesn’t have children dies, his brother must marry his wife and produce children for his brother. 25 Now there were seven brothers among us. The first one married, then died. Because he had no children he left his widow to his brother. 26 The same thing happened with the second brother and the third, and in fact with all seven brothers. 27 Finally, the woman died. 28 At the resurrection, which of the seven brothers will be her husband? They were all married to her.”
29 Jesus responded, “You are wrong because you don’t know either the scriptures or God’s power. 30 At the resurrection people won’t marry nor will they be given in marriage. Instead, they will be like angels from God. 31 As for the resurrection of the dead, haven’t you read what God told you, 32 I’m the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob? He isn’t the God of the dead but of the living.” 33 Now when the crowd heard this, they were astonished at his teaching.
In the Israel of Jesus’ time, there were (at least) two major factions among the religious leadership in Jerusalem: Pharisees and Sadducees. We know the Pharisees well as Jesus’ antagonists: as those who were interested in the application of every minute point of law.
We don’t spend as much time thinking about the Sadducees. They were folks who appreciated the “old” ways – in particular, the traditions of the Temple. They held closely to the Torah and didn’t subscribe to oral traditions of the rabbis that shaped the Pharisees’ understandings of Torah. They believed only what they found in the text. In short, they were the “give me that old time religion, it’s good enough for me” types. They were mostly wealthy and advocates for peaceful relationships with Rome, because they knew it was the only way to maintain Temple worship. And, unlike the Pharisees, they most certainly DID NOT believe in Resurrection.
Here, the Sadducees come to Jesus with a challenge, meant to point out the “absurdity” of that belief, a hypothetical about a woman married seven times. Drawing on a provision in the law which was meant to provide for widows – the only kind of “life insurance” that was really available at the time – they want to know who this unlucky woman will be married to when the dead are raised.
Jesus refuses to take the bait. I read his response like this: “So…let me get this straight. You don’t have a problem with Resurrection on the grounds that the dead can’t come back to life. But you have a problem with it on the grounds that it doesn’t fit with your understanding of marriage? Come on!” They are convinced that God’s power must be constrained and limited in order to conform to human understanding. But Jesus tells them that, for all their wisdom, they understand nothing.
There is a great mystery at the heart of the faith. We proclaim this mystery every time we celebrate communion: Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again. There are no logical arguments to be made or refuted here. Just a simple trust that God did not create us to love us just for a moment. But God created us to be loved unto eternity. This is the promise of Easter. This is why Jesus says, “He isn’t the God of the dead, but of the living.”
by Joe Monahan
For Pondering & Prayer
How do you understand Resurrection and eternal life? Who do you most hope to spend eternity with?
Prayer: Lord Jesus, our understanding of what happens after death is so limited. And yet we trust that because of your Resurrection, we need not fear – neither for ourselves nor the ones we love. We embrace the great mystery of faith, trusting that we too will rise. Amen.
Our Lenten Series
For our Lent series this year, we’ll be using the Adam Hamilton book Luke: Jesus and the Outsiders, Outcasts, and Outlaws. At his website, you can find a 40-day reading plan to help you read through the Gospel of Luke during Lent. And join us for worship, in-person or online, at 9:00 & 10:30 every Sunday.