Luke 20:27-38 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
The Question about the Resurrection
27 Some Sadducees, those who say there is no resurrection, came to him 28 and asked him a question, “Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies, leaving a wife but no children, the man shall marry the widow and raise up children for his brother. 29 Now there were seven brothers; the first married, and died childless; 30 then the second 31 and the third married her, and so in the same way all seven died childless. 32 Finally the woman also died. 33 In the resurrection, therefore, whose wife will the woman be? For the seven had married her.”
34 Jesus said to them, “Those who belong to this age marry and are given in marriage; 35 but those who are considered worthy of a place in that age and in the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage. 36 Indeed they cannot die anymore, because they are like angels and are children of God, being children of the resurrection. 37 And the fact that the dead are raised Moses himself showed, in the story about the bush, where he speaks of the Lord as the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. 38 Now he is God not of the dead, but of the living; for to him all of them are alive.”
What does perfection look like for you? Whatever you’re imagining, I can guarantee it’s not truly perfect. We humans struggle with the idea of perfection. And I think that’s the point Jesus is making here.
The Sadducees, in their questions, miss the point – if they understood the mystery built into the whole thing, they would have chosen wonder over worry, faith over fear, and calm over control.
God is the God of the living. I understand why people have taken this to mean that we are resurrected when we die, but life after death, in whatever form it exists, is a complete mystery to us. And that’s the way it should be.
For far too long, the church has treated faith as a golden ticket – just say this prayer and get into heaven when you die. This is such flawed and dangerous thinking. It lets us off the hook for how we behave and treat each other in this life – the only life we know.
God became human to affirm our humanity, not to tell us where we go when we die. But God also became human to shed light on our unequal systems (this passage breaks down the patriarchy in case you hadn’t noticed).
At the time when this was written, marriage was a social contract, where men had the right to a woman, and women needed male support. This is no longer the case, but marriage is still not perfect, as many of you know all too well.
This passage makes me grateful for the time we live in, where a woman can provide for herself and make decisions based on her own desires, not those of her husband or his six brothers. And she does not have to wait until she has given birth to a son before she is seen as worthwhile in her own right. Broadly speaking, in our society a person’s security and identity is no longer defined by their marital status. Of course, this is not the case everywhere in the world, but we’re getting there, slowly but surely.
The idea that there is no marriage in the Kingdom of Heaven breaks down other social institutions and categories we use to organise ourselves on earth; social class, religious groupings, gender, sexuality, poor and rich. It becomes clear that all God cares about is our God-given status as children of God.
Those who have a good marriage in this life might be horrified at the thought of marriage not existing in the afterlife. Similarly, those who have social standing, success and material wealth in this life probably don’t want to be told it’s all meaningless.
But those who have experienced abusive or negative marriages, those who have struggled financially, those who are oppressed and judged and dealt a harsh set of cards in life might be relieved to hear that our human measures of success and status are meaningless in the grand scheme of things.
Perhaps this is the hard truth we need to hear. What does the afterlife look like?
We’re not supposed to know: it’s a mystery for a reason. What we can be assured of though, is that we are capable of working to achieve its ideals – of peace, equality, and justice – while we’re here on earth. Jesus’ teaching about the Kingdom of Heaven gives a picture of this, a picture of his Kingdom breaking into our world and making it more like the life that follows this one.
The idea that there is a resurrected life in which perfection is the norm is hard for us to comprehend. Jesus is telling the Sadducees in this passage that perfection does not look like an extended version of this life, where there is pain and injustice, and an in-group and an out-group. Surely perfection includes all of us, but not as we are now.
When Jesus gives us an image of how things could be, how things will be in the Kingdom of Heaven, we could squint our eyes at the horizon and say ‘Wow! Heaven is gonna be amazing when we get there,’ then turn away with a sigh, back to our imperfect existence in our messy bodies in an unequal world.
What if it was different? What if we caught a glimpse of the Kingdom of Heaven, and instead of believing it’s only possible in some future world after death, what if we believed it was possible now? What if we took Jesus at his word when he said the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand?
We could catch a glimpse of perfection, then turn back to our imperfect world and be fully present in our human bodies and our systems that are unjust and cruel to those with whom Jesus identified.
We could get to work – not accepting the status quo but pushing, always, for a better world.
Katie is an aspiring writer, an eternal intern, and a passionate Jesus-Feminist. With a Master’s in International Development and a Bachelors in Sociology and French, she is qualified for ... making lattes and pulling pints (skills that she has put to great use). She recently returned to Ireland after working in New York and studying in Edinburgh.