In today’s Gospel, (Lk. 20: 28-38) the Sadducees are using the old trick of reducing their opponent’s position to absurdity. If Jesus, like the Pharisees, believes in the resurrection of the Just, then what will he do with the hypothetical problem of a woman who married seven brothers and still died childless? This refers to the Leverite marriage commanded in Deuteronomy 25 where, if a man dies childless, the widow marries her late husband’s brother so as to bear heirs for the man who died. The scenario mockingly proposed is highly unlikely but that is not the point. Even if there are only two brothers who die without an heir, there is the question of who will be the woman’s husband in the resurrected life. And, of course, everybody who has been widowed at least once and then remarried will have the same problem.
What the Sadducees are telling Jesus is that they don’t take him seriously. They don’t want any wisdom from this troublesome traveling preacher who has shown up in Jerusalem. But Jesus still gives them a serious answer. The first part of the answer: dismissing the problem because marriage ceases to be an issue is surprising and disturbing. Given the closeness of the marriage relationship, when it is a real marriage, and considering the heartbreak for a spouse left behind, one would think that the relationship continues for eternity. And surely it does! And I would think that the lack of marriage in the resurrected life would be about a lot more than there being no need to procreate because there is no death. There is no death. This is the deeper point Jesus is making here. He makes this point with a clever argument. Since the Sadducees accepted only the Five Books of the Torah as authoritative, Jesus had to defend a belief in the resurrection from them, and Moses didn’t seem to give him any support on this. Or did he? Jesus remind the Sadducees that when God spoke in the Burning Bush, God claimed to be the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. If that is so, then how could these three patriarchs, assumed dead, not be alive? For how can the living God be a living God of the dead? As Jesus says, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is God of the living, and not of the dead. So how could the patriarchs be anything else but alive? In Raising Abel James Alison uses Jesus’ reply to show that Jesus, in his eschatological imagination, already knew that in God, there was no death, because His heavenly Abba is a living God.
As for marriage, the Book of Revelation ends with the Marriage of the Lamb with all creation. All creation includes all of us. As with all other language having to deal with god in any way, the term “marriage” is analogous. The Marriage with the Lamb has the intensity of the marriage relationship in this life but it is also very different. The big difference is that this is not a marriage of just two people, but a marriage of everybody with everybody else. Such a thing is hard to imagine, but we should expect the resurrected life to come to be hard to imagine. If we are going to allow Jesus’ words to the Sadducees to widen the imagination to the quality of the resurrected life, we need to allow these words to widen the imagination for everything, especially the good things in life. It isn’t just marriage, but friendships, music, nature in its beauty—everything that will be transformed in the resurrected life. This is why, in the end, we have to give up everything in order to have everything.