Scripture: Lectionary 157. 32nd Sun. Ord. II Maccabees 7:1-2, 9-14. Psalm 17:1.5-6,8.15. II Thessalonians 2:16-3:5. Luke 20:27-38:
We learn from the Scriptures that the Sadducees did not believe in the teaching of the Pharisees about resurrection of the body and the immortality of the soul, nor of angels. Jesus is tested by them in today’s passage from St. Luke’s Gospel. How would he interpret the continuance of the woman outliving her husband and his seven brothers? According to the exceptional law all seven were legally married to her. This is called yibbun in Hebrew law or a levirate marriage. It was permitted as an exception to the law found in Leviticus18:16;20:21. The Sadducees make the facetious example of seven levirate relationships with the brothers of the husband and speak of no issue. Whose wife then will she be in the afterlife? Jesus cuts through their wily and somewhat stupid example to show that he, like the Pharisees, believe in the resurrection where there will be no giving in marriage. Jesus does not describe heaven as such but is offsetting their argument that makes fun of the idea of a resurrection. Jesus knew that the levirate law of Deuteronomy 25:5 admits of an exception to a man who had no male descendant but did have a brother who would be permitted to raise issue for him, thus by way of exception a man could raise up an heir for his deceased brother.
Jesus sees the trap they are setting for him while knowing full well they themselves do not believe there is an afterlife or a bodily resurrection. The Pharisees do believe in the existence of angels, the immortality of the soul, and the resurrection. Jesus is probably a Pharisee in his acceptance of the Tanakh and the other beliefs they hold. This sets up the confrontation he has with the Sadducees.
Jesus, reasoning is quite different from the Sadducees who accept only the Torah but not the full Bible the Tanakh (Torah, Prophets, and Writings). He therefore, as the Word of God, bases his response on the Sacred Scriptures and uses direct examples from the inspired word of God in the Pentateuch (Torah or first five books).
I find the words of Jesus in this passage most meaningful for my belief in the resurrection. He cites from Exodus and the burning bush and demonstrates that, “The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob is not a God of the dead but of the living. All are alive from Him.”
According to the New Jewish Encyclopedia the earliest references to the resurrection are found in Isaiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel. During the period of the Second Temple the Pharisees emphasized the importance of the resurrection and the Sadducees denied it. “Resurrection is a fundamental belief in Jewish tradition, as it is in Christianity. Many reform Jews, while rejecting the doctrine of the resurrection of the body, accept the doctrine of the immortality of the soul. Conservative Jews have no uniform doctrine on the matter. Reconstructionism denies resurrection, and accepts a modified idea of immortality.” (NJE, p. 404).
Every Sunday we Catholics recite the Creed in which we say, “I believe in the resurrection of the body and in life everlasting.” And I always liked the argument ad hominem and its apologetical thrust of Father C.C.Martindale who said that it would be a cruel God who made us in God’s image and likeness and gave us a desire to live forever and then would frustrate that important human desire. Only a rational creature could have such a desire. Our faith gives us assurance and the words of Jesus strengthen that idea. Chapter fifteen of I Corinthians gives us Paul’s teaching and conviction about the resurrection.
Finally, though I have mentioned this before, I affirm what Father Ray Brown says about the bodily resurrection of Jesus and I apply it to ours who are one with Christ through faith and trust: “It is disturbing to hear from Catholics the facile claim ‘My faith in the resurrection would not be disturbed if Christ’s body were found in Palestine.’ Much more to the point is whether the faith of the Eleven (Apostles) would have been shaken by such a discovery.” (Commonweal Papers 2, p. 233, Nov. 24, 1967.”
Resurrexit sicut dixit, Alleluia. Amen He has risen as he said, Alleluia. Amen.
Copyright 2013 Fr. Bertrand Buby, S.M.