Sermon Pentecost 25
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Creator and our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
Well, once again, we find Jesus in the middle of an argument about what the Bible says. He has been arguing and discussing the meaning of the Scriptures since that time when he was 12 and stayed behind in the Temple. He knew the scriptures well. Mary would have been proud.
Usually, it’s the Pharisees who are trying to trick Jesus into an argument. Today, it’s the Sadducees.
You might wonder what difference that makes. There aren’t any Sadducees anymore. There haven’t been any since the Temple was destroyed 70 years after Jesus was born. And Jews don’t call themselves Pharisees these days either.
So, why does it matter? Does it matter to you if you are discussing the Bible with another Lutheran or with a Baptist or with a Mormon? Of course it does. The discussions with those three people would be very different, because we agree and disagree with them, on very different issues. We might even disagree to the point of saying that some of them aren’t even Christians.
The Sadducees were a Jewish group, like a denomination, who lived in Jerusalem. They were the priests responsible for maintaining the Temple and they fulfilled other roles politically and socially in the city. They were in the upper class socially and economically. Politically, they were fine with cooperating with the occupying Roman government.
Religiously, these rich Sadducees were strict fundamentalists. They only believed in the first five books of the Hebrew Bible, the so-called Books of Moses. The rest of the Old Testament – the history books, the prophets, and the psalms, were not scripture to them. These books might be true, but they were just scrolls and a hymnal to them.
The Pharisees, in contrast, were much more liberal in their understanding of the scriptures. They considered all of the Hebrew Bible, our Old Testament, to be the inspired Word of God. They believed that God also gave Moses the ability to interpret the law. That ability is passed down to the rabbis who interpret the scripture.
Pharisees usually lived out in the small towns and rural areas and taught in the synagogues there. They were mostly working class people. The majority of the Jewish people were Pharisees.
Just as we might wonder if some groups are really Christian because of their different teachings, the Sadducees and the Pharisees did not consider each other to be really Jewish.
The main differences between us and many other Christians relate to our understanding of Word and Sacrament. While we agree that Jesus is Lord, we disagree over whether you have to speak for yourself at your Baptism and how much water is used. And we disagree about who is who is allowed to preach and celebrate communion and who is welcome at the communion table.
The main difference in religious teaching between the Pharisees and the Sadducees, besides which books belong in the Bible, was the belief in the resurrection of the dead.
The Pharisees believed in an afterlife where God punished the wicked and rewarded the righteous. They also believed that God would send a Messiah who would bring world peace, both here on earth and in the world to come.
The teaching about resurrection isn’t specifically mentioned in the first five books of the Bible, so the Sadducees didn’t believe in it. No afterlife for them, this life is everything. Moses didn’t write about it so it couldn’t be true.
That’s why the Sadducees are asking Jesus such a ridiculous question. “In the resurrection, whose wife will she be? For the seven had married her.”
This is definitely not a sermon about Biblical marriage, but you do need to know something about the laws of Moses concerning marriage in order to understand today’s question. The law being discussed is called “Levirate Marriage.”
It basically said that if a man died and left his widow without a son, that man’s brother was obligated to take the widow as his wife. The first son they had together would legally belong to the dead brother and receive the inheritance from the dead man.
You see, women couldn’t inherit when their husbands died. Men married. Women were “given in marriage.” Women were basically treated like property that was passed from father to husband for the price of a dowry.
A widow with no son was destitute. Her husband’s brother was legally and morally obligated to marry her and care for her. It did not matter if he was already married or not. She would become his second wife. The women involved had no choice.
In a time and culture when women were not allowed to earn a living or care for themselves, this law was in place to insure they had food and shelter. If there was no brother, the law required the next of kin to marry her. The person who filled the role of the next of kin was called her redeemer.
A redeemer claimed the responsibility for taking care of someone who needed care. It was both an honor and an obligation to be a redeemer.
This is where Jesus comes into the argument with the Sadducees. He tells them that their laws about marriage are only for their time and place. There is no marriage for the children of the resurrection.
For those who feel concern that we won’t still be married after we die, that isn’t what Jesus is saying. He is assuring us that both those who marry, that is the men, and those who are given in marriage, that is the women – both will be children of the resurrection.
Both women and men, all of us, will be children of the resurrection. We will be like the angels, because we cannot die anymore.
We won’t need the levirate marriage laws because no one will die anymore. Mostly, we won’t need them because Jesus will be our Redeemer. He will take care of us and provide for our needs.
Our God is a God of the living. Our Redeemer lives and we also will live. Our Redeemer is the God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob. When we live with our Redeemer we will see them and Mary, Peter, James, and John. We will see all our family members, all the friends we love who have gone before us.
No matter what sufferings we go through in this life, even though our loved ones die, our Redeemer lives and will stand upon the earth. As Job said, “Even after our skin has been destroyed, in our flesh we shall see God.”
Because Jesus was raised from the dead, we too will be resurrected. When that day comes, we will stand with all the saints in glory, and sing the resurrection song. Amen.