Some Sadducees – those who say that there is no resurrection – approached him and they put this question to him, ‘Master, we have it from Moses in writing, that if a man’s married brother dies childless, the man must marry the widow to raise up children for his brother. Well then, there were seven brothers. The first, having married a wife, died childless. The second and then the third married the widow. And the same with all seven, they died leaving no children. Finally the woman herself died Now, at the resurrection, to which of them will she be wife since she had been married to all seven?’
Jesus replied, ‘The children of this world take wives and husbands, but those who are judged worthy of a place in the other world and in the resurrection from the dead do not marry because they can no longer die, for they are the same as the angels, and being children of the resurrection they are sons of God. And Moses himself implies that the dead rise again, in the passage about the bush where he calls the Lord 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 men are in fact alive.’
Here we have a debate between Jews about the reach of the Levitical laws about marriage.
So often religious debate on matters of religious law and custom, even Tradition, can be turned in on itself. Jesus seeks to open this debate up to broader, and deeper, truths of the faith and the Covenant with God.
He does not want them to use laws given to protect the vulnerable here on earth to constrain attempts to conceive of the fullness of love and life in heaven.
That he does it by offering some scriptural exegesis that might not cut much ice these days is really neither here nor there. Though it is a pity the Lectionary selection ends where it does. The next verse shows that Jesus is not out to score points but to win hearts for God – and he does, probably:
Some scribes then spoke up, ‘Well put, Master’ they said – because they would not dare to ask him any more questions.
Jesus presses his questioners and critics to look again at their Tradition and to take on the more that he wants them to be open to.
They fall silent for he has impressed on them there is indeed more that they have to consider: namely that there may well be – to life and marriage and being God’s people – than they have as yet considered.
Well, debates about marriage, its nature and its purpose continue! But too often in focusing on the detail of life here and now, and how it is regulated, protected and so on, we neglect the ground and end of marriage, love, and all that matters here, namely the love of God, and our maturing in our love of God and neighbour.
God’s love, Jesus shows, embraces all, and calls all to him, (and to repentance and to renewal): not least those who break the ‘rules’; and not least those who hold on to the rules for dear life.
- What mistakes have helped you to faith?
- What comfort do you offer to those who struggle?
Decorations for wedding cakes. Musée des civilisations de l’Europe et de la Méditerranée, Marseille. Photo (c) 2013, Allen Morris