Proper 27, Year C
+ In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
The Sadducees in today’s gospel reading are scared – scared that a young Jewish teacher is gaining too big of a following. A following that might listen to him as he speaks against the way they run the Temple, upending the tables of merchants inside its walls. The Sadducees, you see, were the ones who had authority over the Temple and were responsible for ensuring its place as a house of prayer. But Jesus accuses them of making it “a den of robbers” in the chapter just preceding today’s reading. It is no wonder then that the Sadducees are looking for a way to discredit, incarcerate or kill Jesus without infuriating the crowds.
Because Sadducees followed the teachings of just the first 5 books of the Old Testament, the Pentateuch, they did not believe in the resurrection of the dead, which is not explicitly mentioned. Jesus on the other hand, like the Pharisees and many other faithful Jews, believed and taught his followers that the resurrection of the dead would happen. Thus this was the topic they chose to try and trap Jesus with. They use the example of a levirate marriage, from the law of Deuteronomy 25:5-6,”If brothers are living together and one of them dies without a son, his widow must not marry outside the family. Her husband’s brother shall take her and marry her and fulfill the duty of a brother-in-law to her. The first son she bears shall carry on the name of the dead brother so that his name will not be blotted out from Israel.”
But of course, they are also trying to mock Jesus, so they say that not only did the wife have to marry one of her husband’s brothers, but six of them. – each dying before she could bear a child, and thus having to marry the next brother in line till none were left and she herself died. So the Sadducees ask, “In the resurrection, therefore, whose wife will the woman be? For the seven had married her.”
In unusual fashion, Jesus responds not with a question, but with a statement “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.”
In other words, the resurrected life is not a continuation of this life, but a new life. Life as a child of God; a life where marriage is unnecessary.
For in the time of the Old Testament and that of Jesus, marriage was necessary. Many of us are likely aware that marriage at that time was a means of obtaining and protecting property, of increasing safety and security, and also a way of continuing one’s life and name beyond one’s own mortality, through the production of children. This is more than apparent in the law of the levirate marriage. For when a husband dies without having produced a son to carry on his name, the widow is not discarded or pushed aside, but instead remains in the protection of her husband’s family through marriage with a brother-in-law. The widow even has the authority to publicly shame the brother-in-law who refuses his duty.
The truth is, marriage is still seen as being important in today’s society. Perhaps not in the same way, as when women were considered to have no worth outside of their male relatives and men needed children in order for their names to live on. Yet marriage is often still seen as something one must do to be considered good and successful, as well as things like getting a college degree, having children, and owning a home. Trust me as a single, childless woman, who doesn’t own her own home, it still matters.
But that’s why Jesus’ response is so important!! He is saying that in the resurrected life, we will be children of God, living under the perfect protection, peace and love of God. There is hope in the resurrection of a life that is based on God and not on our society’s economics, patriarchy, misogyny, and racism. There is hope in a new resurrected life that is not a continuation of this one.
We aren’t told exactly what that will look like, I doubt it is all of us sitting on clouds in the sky, but we still can have faith that it will be better. But what are the actual things we want to be better? What changes would we like to see in the new life?
Then I ask the question, why should we sit around and dream about how life will be better after we die? Instead, we should go out and make it better today in this life. As Karoline Lewis says, “How we imagine resurrected life gives us a glimpse into what matters for our lives here and now. What we want resurrection life to be is, in part, what we want or wish life to be now. We can spend a lot of energy asking about or imagining the details of eternal life, or, we can channel that energy toward how the security of its promise might make a difference for how we choose to live now.”
If we imagine a life with God to be one where all have shelter, why don’t we go out and work for affordable housing for all. If in the resurrected life we imagine sparkling rivers of clean water, then we could stand today with the Water Protectors in Standing Rock. We can today raise our voices in proclaiming #BlackLivesMatter, encourage and support more women to run for political office, apply for higher wage jobs and actually paying them the same as we pay men. We don’t have to wait.
We don’t have to wait; for today the resurrected Body of Christ surrounds us. The Kingdom of God breaks through in our worship today, in the singing, in the prayers, and in the Eucharist. God sees us as our full selves, and calls us to see ourselves and each other in the same light. And in the words of Paul to the Thessalonians, “Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and through grace gave us eternal comfort and good hope, comfort your hearts and strengthen them in every good work and word.”