Along the way

This coming Sunday is the 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Lectionary Cycle C. In yesterday’s post completed our thoughts about the Resurrection and addressed the “real question” being debated by the Sadducees: the authority to interpret Scripture. But along the way, there is a statement Jesus makes that we did not address: “The children of this age marry and remarry; but those who are deemed worthy to attain to the coming age and to the resurrection of the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage.” (Luke 20:34-35) Does this mean that Christians shouldn’t get married and have children?

First of all, Jesus makes a contrast between “this age” and “that age”. He has made similar distinctions earlier:

And the master commended that dishonest steward for acting prudently. “For the children of this world are more prudent in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light” (16:8).

He said to them, “Amen, I say to you, there is no one who has given up house or wife or brothers or parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God who will not receive (back) an overabundant return in this present age and eternal life in the age to come.” (18:29-30)

The contrasts of the ages that Luke presents are

  • children of this age versus children of light
  • possessions and relationships of this age versus eternal life in the age to come
  • children of this age versus (children of) that age = resurrection from the dead

It appears that the question of marriage and procreation was raised in the early church (see 1 Cor 7:1-16). The belief that one lives forever through the resurrection negates the need for children (more properly, sons,) to have “eternal life”. In an ironic way, this is almost the opposite of levirate marriage – i.e., since we will inherit eternal life, there is no need to have the “eternal life” of children and generations. That is not where their “eternal life” is to be found.  ….So? Should Christians get married or not?

Green (The Gospel of Luke, 721) has a lengthy comment on marriage:

Although typically represented as passive verbs, the instances of the two verbs translated “are given in marriage” (NRSV) actually appear in the middle voice: “to allow oneself to be married.” The focus shifts from a man “taking a wife” (vv 28, 29, 31) to include the woman’s participation in the decision to marry. This is important because the basic concern here is with a reorientation of human relations through a reorientation of eschatological vision. One sort of person is aligned with the needs of the present age; such persons participate in the system envisioned and advocated by the Sadducees, itself rooted in the legislation governing levirate marriage, with women given and taken, even participating in their own objectification as necessary vehicles for the continuation of the family name and heritage. The other draws its ethos from the age to come, where people will resemble angels insofar as they no longer face death. Absent the threat of death, the need for levirate marriage is erased. The undermining of the levirate marriage ordinance is itself a radical critique of marriage as this has been defined around the necessity of procreation. No longer must women find their value in producing children for patrimony. Jesus’ message thus finds its interpretive antecedent in his instruction about family relations of all kinds: Hearing faithfully the good news relativizes all family relationships (cf., e.g., 8:1-3, 19-20).

Culpepper (Luke, 389-90) raises two concerns about the issue of marriage and resurrection:

For those who have lived through violent, abusive marriages, the pronouncement that in the resurrection we will neither marry nor be given in marriage may come as liberating good news. On the other hand, those who have enjoyed lifelong intimacy and companionship in marriage may well object that God has invested so much in establishing faithful, loving, and fulfilling relationships in this life that it is unthinkable that such relationships would be terminated in the resurrection.

It may be best as Culpepper (390) later suggests, to keep our life on the other side of the resurrection a mystery. It is unknown to us. Yet, he also offers this counsel:

Jesus’ words can thus be approached from a positive side. The God who created human life, including the institution of marriage, has also provided for life after death for those who have cultivated the capacity to respond to God’s love. The biblical teaching is that life comes from God. There is nothing in or of the human being that is naturally or inherently immortal. If there is life beyond death, it is God’s gift to those who have accepted God’s love and entered into relationship with God in this life.

And at that….  Some of the scribes said in reply, “Teacher, you have answered well.” And they no longer dared to ask him anything. (20:39-40)

Image Credit: James Tissot: The Pharisees and the Saduccees Come to Tempt Jesus, Brooklyn Museum, Public Domain

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