Then the Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to him with a question. “Teacher,” they said, “Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies and leaves a wife but no children, the man must marry the widow and raise up offspring for his brother. Now there were seven brothers. The first one married and died without leaving any children. The second one married the widow, but he also died, leaving no child. It was the same with the third. In fact, none of the seven left any children. Last of all, the woman died too. At the resurrection, [whose] wife will she be, since the seven were married to her?”
Jesus replied, “Are you not in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God? When the dead rise, they will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven. Now about the dead rising—have you not read in the Book of Moses, in the account of the burning bush, how God said to him, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’ He is not the God of the dead, but of the living. You are badly mistaken!”
Word of Hope
So, what is it that the Sadducees are really worried about in this passage? Are they truly concerned about who is married to whom after the resurrection? Likely not. Their purpose in asking this question is not the hope of a definitive answer, but rather to try to trip up Jesus with “the rules.”
The rules for levirate marriage as outlined in the Book of Deuteronomy were intended to insure care for a widow, to simplify matters of inheritance, and to continue the family lineage of the deceased. Taken at face value, the purpose of the rule makes sense. The Sadducees, however, weren’t concerned with any of this. They were challenging the notion of life after death, the conflict between the Old Testament rules and the preaching of Jesus. As might be expected, Jesus called their bluff.
As a child, I was a rule follower because I was told that rules were intended to make my life, and the life of those around me, safer and better. As an adult, I find myself more like the Sadducees, questioning rules and those who create them. It is not my ideas about the need for rules that has changed; rather, it is my growing skepticism surrounding the intent of those who make rules that has changed. Many rules now seem to be created not with the goal of protecting and bettering the lives of all human beings. Instead, they seem to be enacted with the sole purpose of furthering division and injustice amongst people, making the powerful more powerful and the marginalized even more marginalized.
Sometimes we have a responsibility to challenge rules, to ask the probing questions, to be like the Sadducees. But, just like those making the rules, we need to be honest in our intent. Like the child who believed that rules were intended for good, as adults, our challenges to rules also must be intended for the greater good. When this line is unclear, turn to Jesus in prayer. If our hearts are not pure, the message, “you are badly mistaken” will likely be delivered.
God of the Living, I pray that I have the strength, courage, and wisdom to live my life each day by the rule that is yours, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” May these words be my impetus for both following and questioning the rules made by human minds. Amen
Order of St. Francis and St. Clare