Some Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to Jesus and asked him a question, saying, ‘Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies, leaving a wife but no child, the man shall marry the widow and raise up children for his brother. There were seven brothers; the first married and, when he died, left no children; and the second married her and died, leaving no children; and the third likewise; none of the seven left children. Last of all the woman herself died. In the resurrection whose wife will she be? For the seven had married her.’
Jesus said to them, ‘Is not this the reason you are wrong, that you know neither the scriptures nor the power of God? For when they rise from the dead, they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven. And as for the dead being raised, have you not read in the book of Moses, in the story about the bush, how God said to him, “I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob”? He is God not of the dead, but of the living; you are quite wrong.’
It is difficult to know which one of the two faced the prospect with less enthusiasm. Was it the woman, required to wed for a seventh time in order to satisfy male desires for (male) children. Alternatively, was it the man, contemplating marriage to a bride with an alarming reputation for serial widowhood?
Of course it is only a hypothetical story. Although based on existing social custom, this tale took things beyond the realms of probability or even plausibility. It was not intended to be realistic. It was not intended to address justice issues relating to marriage practices of the time. It was told in order to score points in a theological debate about resurrection of the dead.
Jesus takes the time to answer the point ‘some Sadducees’ wished to address with their carefully contrived story, coming down decisively on the side of those who expect a resurrection of the dead. God, says Jesus, ‘is God not of the dead, but the living’.
We do need to explore together what we think and know about important issues, resurrection prominent among them. If, however, the dilemmas of living people ever become mere discussion fodder for theological debates we will have to reorder our priorities.
Both Sadducees and we would do well to focus our efforts, not on discussing the hypothetical future prospects of fictional characters, but upon relating the love of God to life’s realities for real people in the here and now.
God of the living, God of today, encourage us to hear the words of Jesus and so share your love with others. Amen
The Rev’d Trevor Jamison, a URC minister, is the Environmental Chaplain for Eco-Congregation Scotland.