This coming Sunday is the 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Lectionary Cycle C. In yesterday’s post we touched on the Sadducees’ belief that there is no afterlife. We pointed out that their belief was rooted in an assumption that there was no possibility of a life that was different from the one experienced here on earth. As well, we pointed out that even among people who believed in life after death there was a tendency to see it as an indefinite prolongation of this life. Today we will continue that line of thought.
Jesus argues that the Sadducees’ focus on (levirate) marriage was bound up with a focus on the social conditions of the present world (20:34), whereas entirely different conditions govern the life of those who are deemed worthy of the resurrection (20:35a), conditions that are no longer dependent upon marriage (20:35b) because the new mode of existence of the “children of God” no longer depends upon procreation, but rather corresponds to that of the angels (20:36). This argument does not mean that Jesus holds the view that the meaning of Scripture is not self-evident, but rather that it must be grasped in the context of an eschatological perspective. Jesus tells the Sadducees that people who quote Moses—in this case, the legislation concerning levirate marriage in Deut. 25—should also listen to Moses, about, for example, resurrection. Jesus’ assertion in 20:37 demonstrates that this interpretation misses the point of Jesus’ scriptural argument, which implies that the truth of belief in the resurrection of the dead can be ascertained in the plain meaning of the text of Moses’ encounter with God at the “burning bush.”
“That the dead will rise even Moses made known in the passage about the bush, when he called ‘Lord’ the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob; and he is not God of the dead, but of the living, for to him all are alive” (Luke 20:37-38).
In this way Jesus has asserted his authority to interpret Scripture. Where the Sadducees have posed a case that they think will force Jesus either to renounce the resurrection or to allow polygamy, Jesus replies that the succession of husbands is a problem for the Sadducees only because they have not thoroughly comprehended the meaning of the resurrection: resurrection life and current existence are two completely different things. In heaven the marriage relationship will be transcended by a new kind of relationship that focuses on God.
Image Credit: James Tissot: The Pharisees and the Saduccees Come to Tempt Jesus, Brooklyn Museum, Public Domain