Last Sunday, we heard of Jesus making his way toward Jerusalem when he met the tax collector, Zacchaeus. Much has happened since then: Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem on a colt; on the way there he stood on a hill overlooking the city and wept for Jerusalem; he entered the Temple area and drove out the merchants and their animals; Jesus made the religious leaders so angry they all want to destroy him “but they did not find anything they could do, for all the people hung upon his words.” (19:48) People had come to believe in the things Jesus was saying. In addition to the grumbling in Jericho, when Jesus ate with the despised Zacchaeus, Jesus had encountered rival groups of religious and political leaders, each taking their turn trying to entrap him. The religious leaders are forced to wait until they can manipulate public feeling in their favor. As we know, eventually public feelings do turn, and even the people welcoming him into Jerusalem will want to see Jesus killed, but for now, the tension builds around him. In this Sunday’s Gospel passage the Sadducees take their turn at trying to entrap Jesus, and hopefully win the public to their side against him.
Our reading presents us with the Sadducees posing a hypothetical case intended to make the resurrection appear foolish. We must bear in mind that the Sadducees were the aristocratic party among the Jews. They were not as numerous as the Pharisees, but held the highest offices. They did not believe in the afterlife and lived their lives for this world and this world alone. The Sadducees understood this world to be the only world in which God would act as a keeper of covenantal promises; Pharisees, on the other hand, believed that God would keep his promises and enact justice even beyond the boundaries of this world.
The Sadducees rejected the oral tradition of the Pharisees, and accepted only the Torah, the first five books of Moses. They saw no basis for a belief in an afterlife, no basis for the belief in the resurrection that is found in the Psalms, Isaiah, the Minor Prophets, and the many other writings they rejected.
In this passage Jesus has been handed a case involving the complexities of levirate marriage. The Levirate Rule of Deuteronomy 25 stipulated that when a married male Jew died without a male heir, his closest brother or relative was obligated to marry the widow and the firstborn son of that union was considered the son of the deceased. This Levirate rule insured that the name of the brother would live on, that there would be an heir for his property, and the widow and her children would be cared for.
Jesus responds to their query by quoting from scripture which the Sadducees did consider authoritative. He uses a passage from Exodus, “That the dead will rise even Moses made known in the passage about the bush. When he called out ‘Lord’”. He said further, ‘I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’ Now he is not the God of the dead, but of the living…’” Implicit in this quote is the reality that Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Moses all dwell with God in eternity.
Jesus says that in the age to come, the age of resurrection, marriage, as considered in the case before him, will be unnecessary; women will no longer need to be cared for by a husband or his brother. To this, “…some of the scribes answered, ‘Teacher, you have answered well’. For they no longer dared to ask him any question.”
This verse immediately follows those we hear proclaimed and must have come as a great relief to Jesus in that he had lately been pummeled with one query after the next. And, although the verse falls just outside the lection prescribed here, which ends in verse 38, we really need to hear that last verse to appreciate the effect of what Jesus said.
Can we really know anything about life after death? The Sadducees say, “No,” but the resurrection says, “Yes”. In the resurrection, we will share the eternal Now of God.
At the doorway of death, life is changed, not ended. When we mourn the passing of our loved ones, we must believe that the relationship with them continues. God is a God of the living and, in God, with God, everyone is alive.
Jesus teaches us over and over again that what we do with our life today, will indeed effect our life in the world to come. We do not possess adequate knowledge or language to describe life after death or what the resurrection will be like. The fact is, we do not know. What we do know is what Jesus tells us, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die …” (John 11:25-26).
Yes, we will die. But for the Christian, death is not the end. It is the door through which we enter into the ultimate glory of our God.
May we live and serve our living God through a life lived with purpose and direction. A life lived with the hope of living eternally. A life lived with eternity in view so that it occupies so central a place in our hearts that it has a shaping effect on everything we do, say, and think.
We are resurrection people!