Some Sadducees – those who say that there is no resurrection – approached Jesus and they put this question to him, ‘Master, we have it from Moses in writing, that if a man’s married brother dies childless, the man must marry the widow to raise up children for his brother. Well, then, there were seven brothers. The first, having married a wife, died childless. The second and then the third married the widow. And the same with all seven, they died leaving no children. Finally the woman herself died. Now, at the resurrection, to which of them will she be wife since she had been married to all seven?’
Jesus replied, ‘The children of this world take wives and husbands, but those who are judged worthy of a place in the other world and in the resurrection from the dead do not marry because they can no longer die, for they are the same as the angels, and being children of the resurrection they are sons of God. And Moses himself implies that the dead rise again, in the passage about the bush where he calls the Lord the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob. Now he is God, not of the dead, but of the living; for to him all men are in fact alive.’
The Sadducees make brief but memorable appearances in the New Testament. Their name is derived from the High Priest Zadok, who served under King Solomon (1 Kings 2:35) and whose descendants were granted exclusive rights to minister in Jerusalem (Ezek. 40:46). Mostly from wealthy and powerful families, the Sadducees only accepted the Torah (first five books of the Bible) and even then, with a very strict interpretation.
The Sadducees rejected any notion of angels, life after death, the resurrection and the immortality of the soul (Mark 12:18) and thus in this account they challenge Jesus about his teaching on the afterlife. Convinced that Mosaic Law is silent about a future resurrection they attempt to trap Jesus with a dilemma: if Moses permits a woman to remarry every time her husband dies (Deut 25:5), will this not lead to confusion in the next life? Who will be the widow’s legitimate husband if all seven of them are raised?
Jesus responds unexpectedly to the Sadducees: first, by declaring that marriage does not exist in the next life and, second, by quoting the Law of Moses against them. The burning bush episode shows that Yahweh identified himself with the patriarchs long after their death (Ex 3:6). If Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are still with God, then life must endure beyond death and a future resurrection is implied in the Pentateuch. In effect, Jesus uses the example of Moses to validate his argument over that of the Sadducees, who themselves were the strict followers of Moses and adherents of Mosaic Law.
This Sunday’s Gospel affirms that the Resurrection is central to Christian teaching and belief (Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds). Irrespective of our life’s circumstances we live in the hope of enjoying a new and eternal life, one free of earthly and human limitations.
Director, Religious Education and Evangelisation