Summary: The reason this story is recorded by Luke is because it goes to the heart of the Christian faith
Illustration: As Vice President, George Bush Sr. represented the U.S.A at the funeral of former Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev.
Bush was deeply moved by a silent protest carried out by Brezhnev's widow.
She stood motionless by the coffin until seconds before it was closed.
Then, just as the soldiers touched the lid, Brezhnev's wife performed an act of great courage and hope, a gesture that must surely rank as one of the most profound acts of civil disobedience ever committed.
She reached down and made the sign of the cross on her husband's chest.
There in the citadel of secular, atheistic power, the wife of the man who had run it all hoped that her husband was wrong.
She hoped that there was another life.
And she hoped that that life was best represented by Jesus who died on the cross, and that the same Jesus might yet have mercy on her husband.
(Gary Thomas, Christian Times, October 3, 1994, p. 26.)
Many of you will know that Luke is a consummate historian.
You will recall that the beginning of Luke’s Gospel sets out his reason for writing the two treatise Gospel of Luke- Acts of the Apostles
Luke opens his book as follows:
1Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, 2 just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word.
3 With this in mind, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I too decided to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, 4 so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught. (Lk 1:1-4)
Who Theophilus was we don’t know.
Was he a wealthy Christian who commissioned Luke to write his Gospel?
Was he a friend of Luke who was wavering on the borderline of faith.
Or is he simply a “lover of God” which is the translation of his name would imply
Whoever Theophilus was – we know the reason for Luke writing his treatises:
“to write an orderly account” of the life, the teachings the death and the resurrection of Jesus Christ
So with that in mind, why did Luke record this encounter of the Sadducees with Jesus?
And why did the compilers of our lectionary chose this passage as the Gospel reading for this Sunday.
For it talks about a group of people we are not used to reading about – the Sadducees.
And tells a story about a marriage – the Levirate marriage - which is very foreign idea to us
So let’s back track:
Our Gospel passage begins with the Sadducees questioning Jesus – just as the Pharisees had earlier in this Chapter.
So who were the Sadducees?
In the first Century AD, the Jewish state had two major theological groupings the Pharisees and the Sadducees that impacted the society in Judea.
(Yes there were also the Essenes but they went off to live by themselves in communities such as we find at Qumran – from where the Dead Sea scrolls came. )
So the Essenes didn’t have much of an influence on Jewish society
1. The Pharisees
The Pharisees were scribes and scholars who believed (and lived the teachings) the whole of the Old Testament and in addition added their own oral traditions (codified as the Mishnah in about the third century AD).
The Pharisees were so scrupulous not to break the Biblical laws of the Torah – the first five books of the Old Testament- that they produced
“detailed commentaries on the law in the form of innumerable and highly specific restrictions to "build a hedge" around the written Torah and thus guard against any possible violation of the Torah by ignorance or accident.
2. The Sadducees
The “Sadducees” on the other hand were
“the conservative, aristocratic, high-priestly party, worldly minded and very ready to cooperate with the Romans (Tyndale New Testament Commentaries “Luke” - Leon Morris p.316)
The name derives from Zadok the Priest of King David (referred to in Kings 1 and 2) and so they were the “Zadokites”
They didn’t consider the full Old Testament inspired but only the Torah – the first five books of the Bible.
And one of the most important Sadducean tenets of faith was there WAS NO RESURRECTION.
And so they tried to show the absurdity of the whole concept of the Resurrection by setting out the story of a woman who had seven husbands.
3. The Levirate marriage
The story is based on what is known as a Levirate marriage.
The Levirate marriage is defined in Deuteronomy 25:5 where we read
5 “If brothers dwell together, and one of them dies and has no son, the wife of the dead man 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.