Some Sadducees, those who say there is no resurrection, came to him and asked him a question, ‘Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies, leaving a wife but no children, the man shall marry the widow and raise up children for his brother. Now there were seven brothers; the first married, and died childless; then the second and the third married her, and so in the same way all seven died childless. Finally the woman also died. In the resurrection, therefore, whose wife will the woman be? For the seven had married her.’
Jesus said to them, ‘Those who belong to this age marry and are given in marriage; but those who are considered worthy of a place in that age and in the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage. Indeed they cannot die any more, because they are like angels and are children of God, being children of the resurrection. And the fact that the dead are raised Moses himself showed, in the story about the bush, where he speaks of the Lord as the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. Now he is God not of the dead, but of the living; for to him all of them are alive.’ Then some of the scribes answered, ‘Teacher, you have spoken well.’ For they no longer dared to ask him another question. (NRSV).
It would seem that the resurrection of the dead caused people to wonder in Jesus’ time as much as ours. Even then the resurrection was a hope that many – even in the religious world – doubted and questioned.
The Saducees were a Jewish religious sect with their own teachings and practices. Their theology included, among other things, a denial of the resurrection. This teaching came to characterise the Saducees and, as a result, they searched out ways to defend their position.
And so we find these religious leaders approaching Jesus with their calculated question. They are sure they have found an inconsistency between the resurrection and the teachings credited to Moses.
They make reference to Deuteronomy 25:5-10. This passage is a call to justice and the preservation of a family line in the case of a husband’s untimely death. It is a response to tragedy. It calls for compassion and intervention. The nearest brother is to take the widow in and raise for her a new family. It is a command given in the hope that that no name will be ‘blotted out of Israel’.
But here the radical social grace contained in this law is overlooked. It becomes a foundation passage for the unlikely scenario of seven dead brothers each having been married to the one woman.
Of course, if ever this law was invoked – even once – the problem of the continuation of marriage into eternity could be raised. Their question: ‘In the resurrection, therefore, whose wife will the woman be?’ is not dependent on this unlikely number of deceased brothers. Their scenario unnecessarily exacerbates- and ignores – the tragedy of a lost line.
But this loss is no longer their concern. They are deaf to the call to act as their ‘brother’s keeper’. Disturbingly, they have come to see here nothing more than a theological argument. It is a sad scenario and a damning reflection on the potential of theological discourse. Yes, we can, in the name of theology, completely miss the mark.
Jesus’ answer seems more nuanced than the Saducees expect. He reflects on the continuation and discontinuation between this life and the next. There will be similarities and there will be differences.
But at the heart of it all will be a people who live. As Jesus suggests: ‘…he is God not of the dead, but of the living…’. God is making a living people.
Perhaps it is not so surprising that Jesus would argue passionately for resurrection. After all he is rapidly approaching the cross where he will suffer, die, and three days later, rise again.
And this rising again will be abundantly more than a statement of the indestructibility or survival of God. Jesus’ resurrection – his living again – will be a glimpse of God’s dream for us.