The National Catholic Review

     This Gospel story takes place after Jesus has entered Jerusalem (=Palm Sunday) and before his Last Supper.  Here, Sadducees present a problem to Jesus; it is constructed so as to make belief in a resurrection from the dead foolish and impossible.  [Sadducees believed that only the first five books of the OT were ‘scripture,’ i.e. revelation; the other writings of the OT are very good, but do not contain revelation.  Now,they contend that if one reads just the first five books of the OT, he will not find any revelation there to indicate that there will be a life after life ends on earth.  The Sadducees had their own methods of interpreting the first five books, and in this manner showed that God does not say anything in these books about resurrection from the dead.]

     The story they tell Jesus concerns a law of the OT:  it was written that if a husband died before having a child, a near relative (a ‘brother-in-law’ or lever, and so the law is called the levirate law) is bound to ‘marry’ the widow so as to have a child, now by this ‘second’ husband.  Note the meaning of marriage here: a union in order to have a child; that is the only meaning used in this imagined story and in Jesus' answer to the Sadducees.  And note that what makes this law possible is death, the death of the first husband; the levirate law would not exist if the husband had not died before conception of a child.  The Sadducees have no quarrel with this law; they do not argue about its value.  Theoretically, they have no problem with the woman marrying seven times in order to have a child.  What they want to underline is the absurdity when this situation of seven marriages moves into the afterlife.  There, whose wife will she be? In this earthly life, she is married to only one person at any one time; but in the afterlife, if they are all alive together? How can one choose?  The case the Sadducees present to Jesus makes mockery of the idea, not of the levirate law, but of an afterlife.  Indeed, the law is predicated on the belief that the seven husbands will not be alive together.  So, there must be no resurrection of the dead; the situation they envision will never happen.

     Jesus’ offers two answers.  First, there is no marrying or giving in marriage in the next life.  By this he means that there will be no need for procreating children to replace deceased parents; the parents live forever and will no longer know death.  And being children of God in this life, they will be like angels in the next, for they will have passed the Final Judgment to live with God forever.  Second, Jesus takes them back to revelation in the first five books of the OT.  There, God is described as the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  By citing this phrase, Jesus means to emphasize the word ‘is’: God is the God of Abraham; it is not said that God was God of Abraham till Abraham died.  No, God and Abraham continue their relationship; Scripture says precisely this, when it says that God IS the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  Since Jesus used words taken from the very books the Sadducees believe to have revelation, Jesus has shown how best to understand the revelation from these books and has shown that he knows better than the Sadducees how to reach the full revelation in them.

     What is ultimately at stake here is one’s concept of God.  The Sadducees could live with a God who would give life, then take it away, never to give it again.  Jesus can live only with a God who, once He has given life, will never take it away.  Even if there be death, death cannot stop God from creating a person who will live forever.   In this view, death is only a momentary interruption of life.  To God, all He makes will live forever.  The  reason for this belief that God creates only life?   His love.  Love only knows how to create life, not how to terminate life once created.  God does not love His creation only for a time; He loves His creation, once it is made, and this means creation will live forever.

     As the Sadducees said, “Teacher you have answered well.”  And they knew when to stop trying to trap him; they no longer dared ask him anything.

Comments

Marie Rehbein | 11/7/2010 - 10:08am
I guess we could take that to mean that after judgment some might find themselves experiencing eternal suffering, rather no longer existing.