Weekly Gospel Reflection—10 November 2013
Some Sadducees, who deny that there’s a resurrection, came to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies leaving a widow but no children, the brother must marry the widow and raise up children for his brother. Now there were seven brothers. The first man married a woman and then died childless. The second and then the third brother married her. Eventually all seven married her, and they all died without leaving any children. Finally, the woman died too. In the resurrection, whose wife will she be? All seven were married to her.”
Jesus said to them, “People who belong to this age marry and are given in marriage. But those who are considered worthy to participate in that age, that is, in the age of the resurrection from the dead, won’t marry nor will they be given in marriage. They can no longer die, because they are like angels and are God’s children since they share in the resurrection. Even Moses demonstrated that the dead are raised—in the passage about the burning bush, when he speaks of the Lord as the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. He isn’t the God of the dead but of the living. To him they are all alive.”
Hermione: He called me a mudblood.
Hagrid: He did not!
Harry: What’s a mudblood?
Hermione: It means dirty blood. Mudblood’s a really foul name for someone who’s muggle born. Someone with non-magic parents. Someone like me. It’s not a term one usually hears in civilized conversation.
Hagrid: See the thing is, Harry, there’s some wizards, like the Malfoy family, who think they’re better than everyone else because they’re what people call “pure blood.”
Harry: That’s horrible!
Ron: [burping up another slug] It’s disgusting.
Hagrid: And it’s codswallop to boot. “Dirty blood.” Why, there isn’t a wizard alive today that’s not half-blood or less. More to the point, they’ve yet to think of a spell that our Hermione can’t do. Come ‘ere. Don’t you think on it, Hermione. Don’t you think on it for one minute.
This scene from Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets describes almost exactly the way the Sadducees saw the world. They were the aristocracies — the Malfoys — of their age. And one could understand why. They were the maintainers of the Temple and the priesthood. While not all priests were Sadducees, they felt it their duty to maintain the purity of the office. They were the pinnacle of what some scholars call the “Jewish Age” — the age of Second Temple Judaism.
Being the “1%” of their day, they looked at things from a more “here and now” point of view. Anything that helped them maintain their status suited them just fine. Talk and theories of the future, the “age to come,” and especially the heretical theory of resurrection, were considered, just that, theories, and had no basis in reality. The idea of resurrection was relatively new in the area of “end things” (eschatology). That’s one of the reasons they didn’t accept it — it wasn’t clearly taught in the Torah (the first five books of the Jewish Scriptures). The question posed to Jesus shows their understanding of resurrection and how absurd it looked to them. Jesus’ answer is the key to understanding the resurrection but some have taken it to mean something else altogether.
There are basically three different views of the resurrection. The first is that it’s just another way of describing the “new birth” of John 3. It’s just poetic language to point to a spiritual truth of being “born again” or “saved” or “born from above.”
Another view, one that’s a branch of the first, describes a completely “spiritual” experience with no material aspect to it at all. That is, the physical world is not the “real” world but a prison to escape from. The “real” world is the world of spirit. Resurrection, therefore, refers to continued life in that world. This is similar to the idea that we all become one with the Universe. That we’re all just energy and when we die, we’re released from the confinements of the material world and return to that unified energy.
Neither of these views seem to be the view of either the Sadducees or Jesus. They both seem very keen on the idea that resurrection has some sort of physicality to it. That it has some connection to the material world. We get this from the riddle the Sadducees pose to Jesus. They asked when people are brought back from the dead (they smirk with a twinkle in their eyes), whose wife will a woman who’s been married seven times be? In the question, we discover their view of the resurrection. They understand it to be a resuscitation to this life — nothing more. And, as everyone knows, no one comes back from the dead. Furthermore, no one thought that the people Jesus raised from the dead — Jarius’ daughter (Luke 8.40-56), the widow’s son from Nain (Luke 7.11-17), and Lazarus (John 11.1-44) — were part of “that age.” No. Those people were just given life again in a normal way. They would all die again.
Jesus’ answer addresses this mistake and points to a different understanding of resurrection. He starts out by pointing to their understanding of how people belong to “this age” — the Jewish Age — the age in which they found themselves; and the Sadducees found themselves doing very well. One becomes a part of their elite group in that age by either marrying (males) or being “given in marriage” (females). This is how their “pure blood” line kept going.
But Jesus states that those “who are considered worthy to participate...in the age of the resurrection from the dead, won’t marry nor will they be given in marriage.” In other words, being part of that age doesn’t depend on “pure blood.” People who are of that age are neither “born...from blood nor from human desire or passion, but born from G_d” (John 1.13). They are, therefore, G_d’s children because they share in the life of that age — resurrection. Stated another way — people don’t become G_d’s children because they’re born into it. They’re like the “angels” — they’re made for it.
He goes one step further in that he states people aren’t just limited to “this age.” They can be, and are, part of “that age.” And he proves this by quoting from their own authoritative texts, the book of Exodus.*
But here’s a big question: What, then, is “the age of the resurrection”? It’s obviously different from the age in which they were then living. So what’s the deal?
According to Tom Wright (one of the leading first-century historians and New Testament scholars of our day), “When Jews thought of ‘the resurrection,’ they had in mind a particular story, a set of pictures: the story of Israel, from Abraham (or even Adam) to their own time, and on into the future when God would raise all Israel, perhaps even all humans, from the dead, and create a new world from them to live in. This hope was not about what we think of as ‘life after death,’ a non-bodily state in which people simply went on existing in some form or other. It was about a future event that had not yet happened, as a result of which the death would be alive again in a way they weren’t at present, and all the wrongs of the world would be put to rights” (Luke for Everyone, 2001, 245).**
The resurrection, then, is about a bodied existence, but a different type of body than just a physical one. It’s about a new kind of body that fits into a new type of environment, a new type of creation.
Another question is “When is the age of the resurrection?” Ah! Now that’s the big question! Obviously, we aren’t living in that age yet. Or are we?
A lot of Jewish thought at that time was that the “age to come” would come at the end of history. It was the final stage of all things. A time when, at Wright noted above, “the world would be put to rights.”
However, Jesus ministry was all about ushering in that age — not at the end of history but in the middle of it! He claimed that, somehow, G_d’s promised Realm was coming into the world through his own ministry, “‘The time promised by God has come at last!’ he announced. ‘The Kingdom of God is near! Repent of your sins and believe the Good News!’” (Mark 1.15, NLT). This was astounding news. And, he proved it one step further by being raised from the dead himself. The first followers of Jesus and the writers of the New Testament picked up on this astounding news. Over and over again, the framed their messages and lives in the belief that G_d’s promised future had come to birth during their Jesus’ lifetime (just do a search for “kingdom” and you’ll see what I mean). Certainly, the resurrection of all people hasn’t occurred — not in the way the Jesus meant. But the age in which it lives has already begun and is continuing to grow every moment of every day!
In the Love of the Three in One,
Br. Jack+, LC
* Please note that this “proof text” comes from the single word “am.” Moses didn’t state that Yahweh was the G_d of their ancestors. He stated that Yahweh is the G_d of their ancestors. Jesus ends the debate with the Sadducees on a single word from their own Scriptures. That’s pretty cool, in my opinion.
** If you haven’t read his book, Resurrection of the Son of God, I highly recommend it. It changed my views on this subject from a staunch Full Preterist to a historic view on the subject.