Summary: Things are about to change. The things we love as well as the things we hate - all is to be ’recreated’! ...
Luke Chapter 20 – Jesus tells us that there is no marriage in heaven.
One of the few clear memories I have of being lectured to by our current Archbishop while in seminary was when he spoke on this passage. He began by saying that early on in his marriage, whenever his wife Christine read this passage, stating quite clearly that there was no marriage in heaven, she would start to get a little teary. Nowadays, he said, she doesn’t have that reaction.
Isn’t it odd that the only distinct thing Jesus ever told us about the world beyond is that there is no marriage there? And what does this mean? Free sex? That’s where the minds of some of the less regenerate amongst us probably wandered. No sex? That’s what we were taught in youth group. And yet the passage leaves those questions entirely unanswered because it’s not about sex, and it’s not even about marriage really, but about resurrection.
The Sadducees come to Jesus with this story of the seven brides for seven brothers, where the same woman plays the part of the bride each time. There are seven weddings followed by seven funerals, and then the question: ‘whose wife will she be at the resurrection of the dead?’ But this is not the real question any more than this woman is a real case study, taken from the pastoral archives of the Sadducees. Their real question is whether or not there is life after death, and this story is what we call in logic a ‘reductio ad absurdum’
A reductio ad absurdum is a technique you use in an argument to prove the falsity of your opponents beliefs by showing that if he or she were correct then it would lead to all sorts of absurd conclusions.
Time travel is not possible. Why not? Because if it were possible to travel back in time, then it would be possible for you to travel back and meet yourself earlier in your life (which would be extremely embarrassing). No. The absurdity of the idea that you could meet yourself in another time and still be yourself at the same time shows clearly that the whole idea of time travel is ludicrous. This is a reductio ad absurdum, or so the argument goes.
It’s the same scenario here. The Sadducees don’t believe in the resurrection of the dead. It’s an absurd idea – that the body can come back to life on the other side of the grave. If that were so, what would happen to those who have been cremated? How will they get their bodies back? If that were so, what about those unfortunate persons who have been devoured by cannibals? (This was considered a serious problem a couple of generations ago) And what about this woman who was married to seven husbands? Whose wife would she be? No. The whole idea of a bodily resurrection is ridiculous. Ain’t that right, Jesus?
It’s curious when you look at the way Jesus responds to people’s questions. Often people came to Him with straightforward questions — ‘who is my neighbour?’ — and Jesus mucks around with them a bit in response: ‘let me tell you a story ... ’. Here we’ve got the opposite scenario. These people are mucking around with Jesus – ‘let us tell you a story, Jesus’ – and it is Jesus who gives them a very straightforward response: ‘do you want to know about life after death? Yes, there is life after death. Is there a resurrection of the body? Yes, there is a resurrection of the body. Do you really want to know whom this woman would be married to? She won’t be married to anybody. Are there any more questions?’
It is an unusual scenario for the gospels. What makes it different, I think, is that in most of these gospel scenarios people come to Jesus asking what appear to be genuine questions, but they are really trick questions – ‘should we pay taxes to Caesar?’ Here, on the other hand, what appears to be a trick question is actually a genuine question – ‘is there a resurrection of the dead’. And so Jesus gives a very genuine response – ‘yes there is’.
People have always found it hard to believe in the resurrection of the dead, and for the same reason that the Sadducees found it hard to believe in the resurrection of the dead – because we tend to assume that what is to come will be some sort of continuation of what is now.
That assumption is at the heart of the Sadducees’ story. If you understand the nature of Old Testament marriages, you’ll realise that the question about the woman is technically one about property rights. This woman had been the property of seven different men. Whose property will she be at the resurrection of the dead? Jesus says she won’t be anybody’s property! Why not? Because things are going to be a whole lot different then.