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. Then he said to them, ‘How can they say that the Messiah is David’s son? For David himself says in the book of Psalms, “The Lord said to my Lord, ‘Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.’” David thus calls him Lord; so how can he be his son?’ In the hearing of all the people he said to the disciples, ‘Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and love to be greeted with respect in the market-places, and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honour at banquets. They devour widows’ houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.’
Questions about what happens to us, and to the rest of creation, when we die have been around since time immemorial. Pondering these matters would seem to be a central part of the human condition.
This passage has a group of Sadducees pressing Jesus with questions. According to britannica.com the Sadducees were a sect within Judaism in the two centuries prior to the destruction of the Jerusalem temple in 70 CE. They consisted of priests, merchants, aristocrats and other members of the ruling class and their life focussed on worship in the temple accepting only the Torah, or first five books of our Bibles, the texts traditionally ascribed to Moses. Their conservative practice of Judaism contrasted with the Pharisees, an understanding of that faith grounded in a fuller version of the scripture and learning. Our passage highlights their rejection of resurrection denying a belief in the immortality of the soul or bodily resurrection, another belief placing them at odds with the Pharisees.
In the churches of our time we find people whose beliefs align with both Pharisee and Sadducee understandings of resurrection and other beliefs too. Personally I have some sympathy with the Sadducee perspective as I find myself feeling uncomfortable with the suggestion that life post death is some sort of extension of family life on earth. On the other hand for many folk the possibility of reunion with beloved members of community or family is deeply comforting both in seasons of grief and as we contemplate our own mortality.
Jesus uses the images of angels, children of God and being children of the resurrection in this passage. Notice that the image is ‘like angels’ rather than ‘are’ angels. The hope for the hearer is to be a child of God. A child of that hope and love that Jesus teaches and shows us really does spring eternal. A better hope than being a mere angel. A hope of being fully within God’s presence held within God’s love.
May the Lord support us all the day long, till the shades lengthen and the evening comes, and the busy world is hushed, and the fever of life is over, and our work is done. Then in his mercy may he give us a safe lodging, and holy rest, and peace at the last. Amen.
Prayer attributed to St John Henry Newman (1801-1890)
The Rev’d Sarah Moore serves as Transition Champion for the National Synod of Scotland and as Assistant Clerk of the General Assembly.