Gospel: Luke 20:27-38

After Death

What comfort does faith in the resurrection bring you?

Looking beyond the veil of death is a natural human quest. In fact, we might point to such an inquiry as another line that separates us from other animals on our planet. We humans look beyond the limitations of our existence. We like to explore that which lies beyond our position in space and time. Our search for immortality is not unlike our quest for the ultimate, God. For it takes us beyond ourselves and our universe into the great unknown.

In this controversy with the Sadducees, Jesus combined belief in the afterlife with a belief in God. One was fused with the other.

Popular Translation

The Sadducees were the priests and their helpers in the Temple at Jerusalem. They based their beliefs only on the first five books of the Bible. Since the resurrection was not mentioned in these books, 27b they claimed no one could rise from the dead.

27a Some of the Sadducees approached Jesus so they could test him. 28 "Teacher, Moses gave us a rule," they began, "'If a married man dies before his wife has any children, his brother should marry the woman and have children with her in his memory.' 29 Now, here's the problem. Once there were seven brothers. The first brother married a woman but died before she had any children. 30 The second brother married and died before she had any children. 31 The same thing happened to the third brother. Eventually, all the brothers married the same woman but died before they could have children with her. 32 Finally, she died. 33 So, whose wife will she be when she is raised from the dead? Remember, she married all seven brothers."

34 "People in this life get married," Jesus answered. 35 "But, the people who are worthy to be raised from the dead and live at the end of time don't get married. 36 After all, they cannot die again, because, in the next life, they are children of God and equal to his angels."

37 "The dead will be really raised!" Jesus continued. "Even Moses saw this fact in the Bible story about the burning bush. There, he called the Lord, 'God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.' 38 The Lord is the God of the living, not the dead. To God, all who believe like Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are alive."

The tightly wound arguments of the Sadducees and of Jesus present an interesting contrast. The Sadducees pointed to an ordinance in the Law to prove the absurdity of a popular belief. Jesus countered by refusing the key issue in their argument (the afterlife was an extension of present life). Then, he proceeded to fuse the belief in the resurrection with the seminal revelation of God to his people.

Literal Translation

27 Having arrived, some of the Sadducees, those denying there was the (general) resurrection, asked HIM, 28 saying, "TEACHER, Moses wrote for us, 'If a brother dies having a wife and this one has no heir, his brother will take the wife and raise up heirs for his brother.' 29 So, there were seven brothers. The first one, having taken a wife, died without heir. 30 The second (brother) 31 and third (brother) took her (as a wife), and, so too, the seven left no heirs and died. 32 Last of all, the woman died. 33 The woman, then, in the (general) resurrection, whose wife is (she)? For (all) seven had her as a wife." 34 JESUS said to them, "The people of this age marry and are given in marriage. 35 But those judged worthy to obtain that age and the resurrection of the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage. 36 For they are not able to die any more, since they are like angels and are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection. 37 But, the dead are raised. Moses related (this in the narrative) of the burning bush, as he said, 'Lord, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.' 38 He is not the God of the dead, but the living. For all are alive to him."

20:28 This verse is based upon Deuteronomy 25:5: "If brothers dwell together, and one of them dies and has no son, the wife of the dead shall not be married outside the family to a stranger; her husband's brother shall go in to her, and take her as his wife, and perform the duty of a husband's brother to her." (RSV)

20:34 "people of this age" is literally "sons of this age." Jesus used this phrase to compare those living before the advent of the Kingdom with those who live in God's reign. Unlike many other references to the pre-Kingdom populace, no condemnation or moral weakness is hinted here. This passage cannot not be used to reject sex or marriage. Jesus is simply stating the facts.

20:36 "they are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection." Notice Jesus equated "adopted sonship" with those God will raise up. He opposed the "sons of God, sons of the resurrection" with the "sons of this age" in 20:34.

How do we know there is life after death? This was the question the foes of Jesus placed before him.

As a group opposed to Jesus, the Sadducees were unique. Unlike the Pharisees who lead Jewish communities throughout the known world, the Sadducees consisted of the priests in the Temple and the rich merchants of Jerusalem. Unlike the wishy-washy court of King Herod (the so-called "Herodians"), the Sadducees held tightly onto certain beliefs. Sadducees built their spiritual and economic life around the Temple. As such, they based their traditions on the Torah (with its many rules on worship). The Sadducees rejected the notion of the resurrection, as (for some reason unknown to us) the belief lay outside their view of Scripture and their tradition. Since Jesus preached the resurrection of the dead in the Temple (the "turf" of the Sadducees), naturally the Sadducees would challenge him on this point. [20:27]

The Sadducees began with a principle of the Law on the obligation of family to a widowed in-law who had no children (found in Deuteronomy 25:5-10) [20:28]. With the passing of a husband, widows no longer had a place; they became homeless. And, there were no descendants to carry on the memory of the deceased. To alleviate this social problem and insure descendants-in-name to remember the dead, the Law obliged the brothers of the deceased to marry the widow.

Through a story, the Sadducees tried to show that God's Law on the serious obligations of marriage conflicted with belief in the afterlife. After all, which brother would be faithful to the widow? [20:29-33] Marital faithfulness was a virtue firmly grounded in the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:14, Deuteronomy 5:18). The Sadducees argued that God would never create a condition in where his Will would contradict his Law. So, to insure the sanctity of marriage found in the Law, the Sadducees implied, God would never create an afterlife.

Jesus answered the Sadducees in two ways. First, he argued that marriage is an earthly institution blessed by God, but there was no such institution in God's Kingdom. [20:34-36] Such a concept was radical at the time. If there was not the institution of marriage, there may not be institutions of social class or slavery in the Kingdom. Women were equal to men, slaves were equal to freemen, the poor were equal to the rich. Only one status mattered: standing before God as his child [20:36].

Second, Jesus insisted that, when he had his first encounter with the Lord, Moses acknowledged the resurrection of the dead before he received the Law [20:37-38]. How did Moses do this? Moses experienced the divine as a dynamic presence that the Jews referred to as the "Living God." This God acted with power and definite purpose. He took the initiative in creation and in the affairs of people. This was not a transcendent power that could be manipulated through prayers, incantations, or spells. No! When people experienced the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, they were shaken by a powerful presence beyond their control; they lie in the hands of a God that was truly alive.

As God was alive, so too, were those who experienced him. Here, Jesus showed a subtle, but definite shift in logic. Only the living can experience that which lives; only the living can encounter the "Living God." If the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is the "Living God," then Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob must be alive in his presence. If Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob still live, then there must be a resurrection of the dead. In the very title of their God, Jews found the revelation of his purpose to give life after death.

Catechism of the Catholic Church: Christ's Resurrection and Ours

992 God revealed the resurrection of the dead to his people progressively. Hope in the bodily resurrection of the dead established itself as a consequence intrinsic to faith in God as creator of the whole man, soul and body. The creator of heaven and earth is also the one who faithfully maintains his covenant with Abraham and his posterity. It was in this double perspective that faith in the resurrection came to be expressed.

According to the Catechism, our belief in the resurrection is based upon a faith relationship with God as creator. Reflecting on the beauty and mystery of creation, we ask if there is more to life, if there is something beyond the grave. Will not God who loves us now with his good gifts care for us in the afterlife?

But there is a better reason. God intervenes in our affairs with a definite purpose. He has a plan for us that includes life after death. As a God who makes history, he marked the center point of all human affairs in the resurrection of his Son.

As Jesus pointed out in his response to the Sadducees, Yahweh is the "Living God." He desires living beings to worship him and return his love. He has shown us the door through death to a new life. As long as we worship him, we can be assured that he will not abandon us. He wants us to live, forever!

What have you been taught about the resurrection of the dead? What importance does this belief have in your life?

How do we know there is life after death? We know through Scripture and the tradition of the Church. But more important than these, through God's dynamic presence, he communicates the love and compassion of his will. We can trust God in all things, including the greatest challenge life gives us, death. If he lives, so shall we, for his love transcends all things, even death itself.

Whom would you like to see in the next life? How would you like to see raised up and share in God's love? Pray for those people this week.