Wednesday, August 19, 2009


Mark 12:18-27 (NRSV)
18 Some Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to him and asked him a question, saying, 19'Teacher, Moses wrote for us that "if a man's brother dies, leaving a wife but no child, the man shall marry the widow and raise up children for his brother." 20There were seven brothers; the first married and, when he died, left no children; 21and the second married her and died, leaving no children; and the third likewise; 22none of the seven left children. Last of all the woman herself died. 23In the resurrection whose wife will she be? For the seven had married her.'
24 Jesus said to them, 'Is not this the reason you are wrong, that you know neither the scriptures nor the power of God? 25For when they rise from the dead, they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven. 26And as for the dead being raised, have you not read in the book of Moses, in the story about the bush, how God said to him, "I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob"? 27He is God not of the dead, but of the living; you are quite wrong.'

So what is at issue here? This is one of those passages that I, as a Christian, read and decide there is some obscure theological point I am just not getting. I know that Jesus is giving some snappy answers to silly questions but it seems to fly way over my head. I don’t get what the argument is about.

To get what the argument is about and to understand why it matters to a Christian of the twenty-first century requires a few facts about Judaism of Jesus time.

The Sadducees say there is no resurrection. A man’s only hope of eternal life - and it was only men who could hold this hope - was in having progeny. Specifically a man lived on in his children. A man who died with no children was dead for all eternity. The custom of levirate marriage, was the priestly solution to this problem. If a man died with no children then the law of Moses prescribed that his brother should marry the widow. Any offspring of that union would be considered children of the deceased brother and he would live on through them.

For the Sadducees the law of levirate marriage, carried to its logical conclusion, would preclude the possibility of resurrection.

Jesus answers “You have it all wrong!” In the minds of the Sadducees the resurrection life looks like this life except that it happens after we die. But Jesus says the resurrection life is not just an overpopulated version of this life. It is different in ways that are still shrouded in mystery for us. The certainties and assumptions of this life will not hold true. And eternal life does not begin with death eternal life starts now and here. God is not a “God is not a God of the dead but of the living.”

So what does this mean for a Christian of the twenty first century. It means that we are called not to be slaves to the certainties of our time. We are called to live as citizens of God’s kin-dom coming. We who claim a resurrection faith must live with that faith constantly in mind.

What difference does it make that death is not the end? If death is not the end then life must be lived with an eye on eternity. If death is not the end then what we do today tomorrow and next year all play a part in shaping forever. If death is not the end, and forever doesn’t look like this then faith demands that we pattern our lives on the blueprint of love that Jesus showed us. We called in faith to build shalom, peace and flourishing for all God’s creation.

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