[Sunday Gospel, November, 10th 2013]
Some Sadducees, those who deny that there is a resurrection, came forward and put this question to Jesus, saying, “Teacher, Moses wrote for us, If someone’s brother dies leaving a wife but no child, his brother must take the wife and raise up descendants for his brother. Now there were seven brothers; the first married a woman but died childless. Then the second and the third married her, and likewise all the seven died childless. Finally the woman also died. Now at the resurrection whose wife will that woman be? For all seven had been married to her.”
Jesus said to them, “The children of this age marry and remarry; but those who are deemed worthy to attain to the coming age and to the resurrection of the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage. They can no longer die, for they are like angels; and they are the children of God because they are the ones who will rise. That the dead will rise even Moses made known in the passage about the bush, when he called out ‘Lord, ‘ the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob; and he is not God of the dead, but of the living, for to him all are alive.”
The first century Judaism was very different. There were different groups with different ideas about their own faith. They all shared a few basic points, like believing in one God rather than in multiple gods as other countries did; and believing in the authority of Moses’ Law, the first five books of Scripture. However, there were different groups depending on the way of interpreting that Law, and the value they placed to other books of the Old Testament, like Prophets or Psalms.
For example, Sadducees were a minority but economically and socially powerful group who were located in Jerusalem. They collaborated in keeping the established order. Power alternates only among a few families. They only accepted five Moses’ books and the Pentateuch, whereas they rejected many oral traditions that Pharisees much appreciated.
Resurrection was an absurdity for them. They understood it as returning to life as we know it now, though perhaps they thought that it wouldn’t have diseases or death. They all would go back to life in the same state in which they died, and they would have the same duties, would engage and have children, and so on. Pharisees accepted this idea too, supported by some texts from the Scripture.
Having in mind this context, a group of Sadducees approached Jesus and asked him a theoretical case using a kind of parable. This was the normal way to discuss topics between schools and study groups.
They referred to the so-called “Levirate Law”, which required the brothers of a deceased man to marry his widow for several reasons: first and foremost, to prevent his lands from changing its possession, if the widow married another man –because the first-born son received a better and greater inheritance; secondly, to avoid missing the name of the deceased –and for that, he needed offspring; and finally, it was a way to protect widows because in the patriarchal society, they could be alone and helpless. The clan of her deceased husband was required to give her place in his own family.
From the Sadducees’ point of view, the case presented has a clear answer: it is nonsense to believe in resurrection as if such a thing did exist, these unsolvable situations would happen.
Jesus agrees on just one thing: it is nonsense to believe in resurrection that way. He makes a comparison between “present” and “future” life that exposes the simplicity of their approach. God has the power to create life, to make us participate in resurrection, and to call us his sons. To prove it, Jesus uses a quotation from a Scripture’s book they accepted: Exodus. In the famous passage of the burning bush, God speaks to Moses and before being given his mission, God is introduced to him as “the God of your father, the God of Abraham, The God of Isaac, the God of Jacob” (Exodus, 3, 6). Jesus chose a very important text that all Jews were familiar with. God introduces himself as the one who will do justice to his people, the one who will save them, the one who has heard their plea for Egyptian oppression. This text emphasizes the power of God to do the impossible. In fact, He passed his people from a captive lifestyle to a better life in the Promised Land. Therefore, the text includes a large variety of intertwined symbols about resurrection, without mentioning it directly.
After that, Jesus gives his interpretation criticizing the Sadducees. He says: if there is no resurrection, when God says He is “the God of Abraham”, He would be acknowledging that He is a god of the dead. The Sadducees wanted to prove that resurrection is a nonsense, but Jesus has shown that it is them who interpret the Law in a nonsense way.
Resurrection life is not equal to current life. Therefore, it can not be described with our language because it has emerged from modern life and serves to describe it now. The only way to talk about the “future” life is with images or metaphors. Jesus compares eternal life to angels’ life, but He is careful to say “as” angels.
When St. Paul is asked about this, he also uses images of his time to express it. At that time, people though that celestial stars were made of a different material: ether. Paul uses the metaphor of ether symbolizing a “different body”, which is the resurrected body. He even said a paradoxical expression “spiritual body” as opposed to “material body”, which is the current one. Thus, this can not be understood as a description, but as an image trying to explain something that our language can not describe.
Poetry has always existed. In our culture, poetry has fallen into decay. “Real” language –the one which says things like they are – is considered the only proven scientific way whereas poetry is considered to say things using circumlocutions, without “truths”. However, poetry arose to express what seems inexpressible, what is not so clear or obvious, what can not be felt, measured or weighed but exits in our lives; something which has an undeniable presence in the world. For many centuries and still today, poetry has talked a lot about love –the most important reality which can not be quantified, nor weighed, nor objectified. Poetry has also talked about the human being having an unknown and mystery dimension, which can only be expressed with poetic language.
The language of images, comparisons and metaphors is not a second-class language. It is useful to express other things, other realities that are not tangible or measurable, but they exist. Poetry makes us feel as human beings and not just simple masses of cells. It makes us contemplate the universe and marvel at its beauty; it also makes us wonder about love, justice, eternal life, and earthly life.
But, what lies beyond? Christians do not reply saying: “we know it”. We reply humbly: “we hope it”. We firmly believe in God who created us with our material bodies, and He can re-create us again in his image and likeness. We believe that love is stronger than death; and that we are not just carbon, hydrogen, oxygen and nitrogen masses that when dying, we dissolve into nothingness. We do not think that after this life, it comes another one, as if they weren’t related. We believe in the proclamation of Jesus and in God, who has promised to be by our side forever. We hope that our current lives have a full and eternal meaning, which can only be fully visible in the future. Our lives already have a full meaning, we live in eternity now; but it will only be fully disclosed when we will be with God and with our beloved ones forever.
Translated by: Rocío González Romero