by Rev.Dr. Krista S. Givens
Have you ever been in a debate that you know you can’t win? Even equipped with the facts, or the logical argument, or the convincing testimony – you’ll never convince another to YOUR SIDE. In a community like ours – diverse and blessed with the beauty and variety God provides – it is bound to happen: I feel passionate about something that you may feel completely differently about, and our opinions will never be the same. SO how do we – a family of different values, different cultures, different traditions – how do WE… be the one body of Christ?
It’s a difficult question and one that not many groups have figured out… How do we exist together – with different opinions. It’s a concept that goes against our human tendencies. When in a group – we are attracted to those who are similar to us – those who share our opinions, those who think like we do, those who share our history or our culture – and then we are comfortable.
But God does not call us to be comfortable. God calls us to be ALIVE and God calls us to be in community with one another – even when we disagree.
Today we encounter the Sadducees (the protectors of the Temple and the Temple law), whose views differ GREATLY from the views of Jesus and his followers. Now, this is the only occurrence of the Sadducees in the gospel of Luke. They do appear a few times in Acts (4:1; 5:17; 23:6, 7, 8) and they appear in the parallels to our text in Matthew and Mark (Mt 22:23; Mk 12:18). But in the other instances in the gospels, they are connected with the Pharisees in opposition to Jesus (Matt. 3:7; 16:1, 5, 11, 12; 22:34). (1) According to scholars, the Sadducees and the Pharisees did not hold many of the same views. They did not “work together well.” Rabbinic literature actually situates these two groups as opponents. Part of this opposition arises because the Pharisees accepted the authority of the oral tradition as extensions and proper interpretations of the Law and the Sadducees did not.
The Sadducees did not believe in the resurrection of the dead, the immortality of the soul. So when they ask Jesus about marriage in the afterlife… they are posing a question about a subject they don’t even BELIEVE IN! Let’s look at our scripture to discover how Jesus deals with these challengers…
Luke 20 beginning at verse 27:
27Some Sadducees, those who say there is no resurrection, came to him 28and asked him a question, “Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies, leaving a wife but no children, the man shall marry the widow and raise up children for his brother. 29Now there were seven brothers; the first married, and died childless; 30then the second 31and the third married her, and so in the same way all seven died childless. 32Finally the woman also died. 33In the resurrection, therefore, whose wife will the woman be? For the seven had married her.”
Now, the Saducees are asking Jesus a question about the resurrection by using THE LEVIRITE RULE. The word “levirite” comes from the Latin, levir meaning “brother-in-law.” Such laws are found in Ugarit, Middle Assyrian, and Hittite codes as well as in Deuteronomy 25:5-10 (cf. Gen 38:8; Lv 18:16; Ruth 3:9, 12-13). (2) Levirite marriage allowed for continuity in the line of the family: that when a male dies, the line will continue through his brother…. But to our ears this sounds awful… that when a woman loses her husband, she is just thought of as a baby-machine and is married off immediately to the “next in line” and then she is the property of brother after brother after brother…. I don’t like the Levirite rule. I wouldn’t do well in such a system. But in a patriarchal society, it did provide the woman with protection, and care and purpose. (To see the positives in such a system.)
But marriage isn’t really the question they are asking…. They are not really asking about the Levirite rule… they are asking about the afterlife. What will happen when we die? Do the same rules apply in the afterlife?
34 Jesus (shook his head and sighed and exasperatedly) said to them, “Those who belong to this age marry and are given in marriage; 35but 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. (Things are not the same when we die, You are worrying about the wrong things….)
36 Indeed they cannot die anymore, because they are like angels and are children of God, being children of the resurrection.
And then Jesus uses their own sacred text from Moses to explain how it works: Verse 37 says, “And the fact that the dead are raised, Moses himself showed, in the story about the bush, where he speaks of the Lord as the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.”
38 Now he is God not of the dead, but of the living; for to him all of them are alive.”
In this dialogue Jesus describes how God’s world works: “Don’t think of the world as black and white; living or dead; good or evil… That’s not how God works. God is the God of our ancestors – true: the God of Abraham and Jacob and Issac and all those saints we remembered with reverence, but He is also the God of you and me….He is the God of Jews AND Gentiles; Sadducees and Pharisees and followers of Jesus; The God of republicans and democrats; God of believers and non-believers; rich and poor; Black and white and brown in all our hues…..”I am the God of the living,” he says… “the God of you all.”
“For to him all of them are alive.”
And what does it mean to be alive? Is it just merely existing? breathing? functioning? or do we – who are breathing, who are able – do have a responsibility to use our lives in a way that glorifies God and serves his purposes?
I have shared before my favorite quote from Saint Irenaeus: “The glory of God is a human being fully alive.” As I wake up each morning and go to bed each evening I determine not to waste one moment of my life merely existing but to try to be FULLY ALIVE in my living.
Friends, we will never agree on everything. The Sadducees sadly, never understood how they fit into the family of God and when the temple was destroyed in Jerusalem in 70 CE, they died out soon thereafter. Who needs a “protector of the Temple” after the Temple is gone?
Had they heard Jesus proclaim that God is the God of us all? Did they understand that they – the Sadducees – were included in the family of God? I hope so, for to God – we are all HIS, we are one body …. and we are all the children of the God of the LIVING, and so we must LIVE and live well. We must love one another as our God loves us, in all our imperfection. No matter how challenging we are.
May we find peace in our diversity. May we experience the love that God has for each of us. May we extend that love to others and remember that If one member suffers, we all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it. Let us honor each other and may all who are living, with praise and thanksgiving, bring honor and glory to God. Amen.
1. Brian Stoffregen, found on http://www.crossmarks.com/brian/luke20x27.htm