***EDITOR’S NOTE: This post was originally posted for Proper 27(C) in 2016.***
Proper 27(C): This Blog is (NOT) about Marriage
By: The Rev. William Culpepper
In the introduction to his book “Sex God,” Rob Bell assures us that “this” really is about “that”—meaning that the book really is about sex, even if it the particular chapter or section didn’t seem to be. It was a particularly good point to make at the beginning of the book because sometimes I found myself reading and asking was “this” really about “that”? And I find myself asking the same thing here: was the Sadducees’ question really about “this”? And was Jesus’ answer really about “that”?
I’m not talking about sex here (although I’m sure there is a commentary out there that does, given that the institution of marriage and sexual intercourse were so tightly bound during this time and in this culture.) But I do want to know what the Sadducees are getting at. Are they asking about marriage? If so, is this an intellectually curious question that has no real answer since we have no idea about the laws of marriage in the next life. Are they asking about resurrection? If so, are they honestly asking or seeking to undermine the teachings of Jesus since they do not believe in resurrection (verse 27)?
Is this some sort of mega-Schrödinger situation in which the woman is both dead and alive and also married to one brother and all of the brothers?
And then there is Jesus’ answer. What is he getting at? Does he adequately answer the question or is this one of those situations where Jesus seems to know more than we do and acts counter to what we would think he would do?
Is this question really about that? Is the answer really addressing that?
Let’s crack these hypotheticals by looking at the person of Luke. This story is included in both Matthew (22:23-33) and Mark (12:18-27), but Luke leaves out something that is included by both Matthew and Mark. In the other two gospels, Jesus begins his response by calling into question the Sadducees’ knowledge of both Scripture and the power of God. Luke probably doesn’t include this little detail because he is writing to a primarily Gentile audience, while the others are writing to primarily Jewish audiences. Instead, Luke begins Jesus response by saying “Those who belong to this age marry and are given in marriage but those who are considered worthy of a place in that and in the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage.” (v. 34-35)
Jesus’ answer is about this and that.
But the ‘this’ and ‘that’ isn’t marriage.
The ‘this’ and ‘that’ is life and death.
“Let’s step away from the hypothetical and into what matters,” says Jesus. Stop asking about a situation that probably never happened and start looking at one that happens everyday. Start asking about the difference between death and life. That is what the Sadducees were missing, and maybe that is what Jesus was referring in those interlinear passages found in Matthew and Mark. Resurrection is throughout the Scriptures; somehow the Sadducees have missed it.
And with no resurrection there is no way to escape death.
And with no escape from death, what can we hope for in this life?
And yet, God offers life as an escape from death through Jesus Christ.
And yet Jesus is the resurrection.
The Sadducees needed to stop asking about the letter of the law and start seeing the resurrection right before their eyes. They needed to open their dead eyes and see the life that is offered by Christ. Because things are different between this age and that age. And the difference is that we worship not “the God of the dead but of the living” (v. 38)
And those who worship this God experience life.
And those who are living that life experience death.
There is a difference between this and that. It’s resurrection. It’s Jesus.
The Rev. William Culpepper is an ordained Deacon in the South Georgia conference of the United Methodist Church. He currently serves as the Associate Pastor and Youth Minister at a church in downtown Macon, Georgia. With a 2 year old daughter and newborn daughter, he and his wife Lindsey have their hands full but wouldn’t have it any other way.