The Gospel this week presents one of the silliest moral cases in all of Scripture. The Sadducees ask Jesus about an extraordinary situation in which each of seven brothers marries the same woman. They then propose a question concerning whose wife she will be in the resurrection. Prior to the narration itself, Luke informs us that the Sadducees do not believe in the resurrection. The case is an obvious trap to discredit Jesus by proposing an unsolvable problem. If Jesus says the woman will be the wife of one of the brothers, he advocates abandoning the tenet of the law commanding a man to raise up offspring for a brother who has died. In addition, the case makes any position supporting resurrection appear to be ridiculous. It asks whose wife she will be in the resurrection.
Jesus responds by telling them that those who attain life in the resurrection neither marry nor are given in marriage. In other words, the resurrection is a completely different type of existence from the one we now experience. Not only do the traditional decrees of the Mosaic law not apply, but even physical existence will be different from what we know in this present age. The Sadducees make a mistake by thinking that resurrection is just a long-term continuation of our present life. Readers of the Gospels know that Jesus’ new life differs radically from the life he led prior to his death and resurrection. We know a little about his new life. He does not seem to be subject to the laws of space and time. He no longer needs to follow human law, for now the will of the Father is his only law.
Another implication of Jesus’ answer to this problem has to do with the special way God values each risen individual. We must pay attention to the woman in the story who is moved from brother to brother as if she is simply a piece of property to be shared among the seven men. Jesus sees that she has value in and of herself as a human being; she is not simply chattel. For this reason, Jesus points out that in the resurrection people neither marry nor are given in marriage. Rather, each person lives an individual and complete life apart from current human traditions such as marriage. The Sadducees are wrong by failing to realize the resurrection manifests how God looks upon each individual as infinitely valuable.
By denying resurrection the Sadducees do not understand the true character of God who renews and values each person. They fail to realize that God is a God of the living and not the dead. The responsorial psalm says, “Keep me as the apple of your eye, hide me in the shadow of your wings. But I in justice shall behold your face: on waking I shall be content in your presence “(Ps 17:8).
Fr. Treloar, an assistant director at Jesuit Retreat House, Oshkosh, has served as a professor, lecturer, author and academic administrator.