JESUS VS THE SADDUCEES ON THE RESURRECTION OF THE BODY
(Biblical reflection on the 32nd Ordinary Sunday [Year C] – 10 November 2019)
Gospel Reading: Luke 20:27-38
First Reading: 2Maccabees 7:1-2,9-14; Psalms: Psalm 17:1,5-6,8,15; Second Reading: 2Thessalonians 2:16-3:5
There came to Him some Sadducees, those who say that there is no resurrection, and they asked Him a question, saying, “Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies, having a wife but no children, the man must take the wife and raise up children for his brother. Now there were seven brothers; the first took a wife, and died without children; and the second and the third took her, and likewise all seven left no children and died. Afterward the woman also died. In the resurrection, therefore, whose wife will the woman be? For the seven had her as wife.
And Jesus said to them, “The sons of this age marry and are given in marriage; but those who are accounted worthy to attain to that age and to the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage, for they cannot die any more, because they are equal to angels and are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection. But that the dead are raised, even Moses showed, in the passage about the bush, where he calls the Lord the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob. Now He is not God of the dead, but of the living; for all live to Him.” (Luke 20:27-38 RSV)
Today’s Gospel reminds us of two religious groups, the Pharisees and the Sadducees. The Pharisees taught that the dead will rise from their graves at the end of the world and at that time God will reward those he judges to have lived good lives by giving them new life in his Kingdom. The Sadducees, who were theologically almost the exact opposite of the Pharisees, did not believe a bodily resurrection or in a life after death. Many of Jesus’ teachings had more in common with the Pharisees’ beliefs than with those of the Sadducees.
In the long form of today’s Gospel, the Sadducees ask Jesus’ opinion about matter that may sound a little strange to us. A woman in first-century Palestine normally could not inherit property, so it was very important for a man to have a son to whom he could leave all his accumulated wealth. If a man died without an heir, his closest male relative was to marry the widow and produce an heir for him. The first male child born of this union would legally be the son of the dead man and would inherit all his property. The Jews called this regulation the Levirate Law (Deuteronomy 25:5-10).
The Sadducees ask Jesus to consider a hypothetical situation. A man who has six brothers dies without having children. The dead man’s oldest brother does what the law expects of him and marries the widow but he also dies before a son is born. Likewise, this happens to the rest of the brothers. Since all seven marry this woman, the Sadducees want to know whose wife she will be when everyone rises from the grave at the end of the world. With this question, the Sadducees challenge the belief in life after death.
Jesus first points out that the Levirate Law is supposed to solve a problem in this world (inheriting property) and has nothing to do with what it will be like after the resurrection of the dead at the end of the world. With that out of the way, Jesus then defends His teaching about life after death by quoting a passage from the book of Exodus in which God calls Himself the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. These three men were the patriarchs of the Jewish people and had been dead for almost 1,900 years. Jesus points out that if there is no life after death, then God would have been claiming to be the God of the dead, a claim that would not make any sense because only the living could serve Him and give Him glory.
(Adapted from Jerome J. Sabatowich, Cycling Through the Gospels – Gospel Commentaries for Cycles A, B, and C, pages 332-333.)
Prayer: Lord Jesus, we are in awe of Your love for us. Continue to reveal to us who You are so that we can become more and more like You. Through the help of the Holy Spirit, remind me often of how things look at the end of the book, so that I will plan the rest of my life accordingly. Amen.
Jakarta, 9 November 2019
A Christian Pilgrim