think given a choice,
most of us would prefer questions to answers. Questions raise new possibilities for
understanding, open the doors to exploration, pique our interest, and rouse our curiosity.
Maybe youve discovered the joy of questions by sitting right where you are this
morningin a worship service. Weve heard enough sermons that give us the
answers: this means this . . . the Greek has it this way . . . in those days . . . we
need to, must, ought . . . But every once in awhile the precious question makes a
cameo appearance in the sermon: Now why would Jesus do that? What could have prompted
Paul to say that? And before we know it, weve teamed up with that question and
are racking our brain to come up with our best answer. In the processand guided by a
good communicatorwe can a new discovery and leave with new insight.
In spiritual formation, a spiritual guide will often mentor their disciples through
questions. How might you think differently about that behavior? What is the deepest
part of your life saying to you about this? What do you think God is saying to you through
all of your successes?
Questions can lead us to new discoveries and truth. Right in the middle of our passage
this morning stands a bold question. The question stands at the end of an intriguing
"what if" story told by Jesus interlocutors. According to the ancient
levirate marriage code in the Torah, if a man died with no firstborn son to leave his land
and wealth to, his surviving brother was required to marry the deceased brothers
wife. Basing their story on this ancient family code, the Sadducees launch in to their
story. Suppose there were seven brothers and the oldest of them died married, though
without children. And taking for granted that the levirate marriage code is followed so
that one of the brothers would marry her. All good and fine so far. But what if that
brother too, died unexpectedly and every single last one of them left no children.
Finally, the woman dies too. (Now get ready, here comes the punch line question!)
"So, Jesus, ahem, which of the brothers will be her husband in the
resurrection?" the Sadducees ask.
The question seems innocent enoughwhose wife will she be in the resurrection?
For all seven had her. These leaders certainly raised a good question and provided a
context that honored Moses and the Torah. As to the levirate marriage code, what could be
better among ancient tribal peoples than to provide a way to protect the family from
disaster in times of death of the primary bread winner? The law was clearly watching out
for single parents and wanted the family system to care for such families during tragic
moments in life. Nothing wrong with watching out for each other.
Just an aside here. Such an action was truly selfless. Rather than abrogating the
widows property for his own, he was under societal pressure to marry the widow and
have children through their union so that she and her son could inherit her late
But what if some brother decided that one spouse was enough? "No, Im not
going to marry my brothers wifeoh Ill throw her some money once in
awhile and do some house repairs when she needs it, but Im not going to get involved
with this marriage stuff."
Enter the deadbeat dad stigma.
If a brother refused to honor the ancient levirate marriage code, the widow
wouldin front of the whole town that had gatheredtake the mans sandal
off his foot. The sandal symbolized walking over a piece of land as a sign of ownership.
So the removal of the sandal meant that the owner of the sandal had not shown proper
regard for his brothers family and property. Then before watching eyes, the woman
would be allowed to spit in this brothers face like a llama! Holy humiliation! From
that point on, you might has well hang the shingle on that guys door: Deadbeat
Brother Lives Here. So most brothers reluctantly or not, probably obeyed the code of
Whose wife will she be in the resurrection? For all seven had her! Look closely at
the question. Job posed a similar question a long time ago: If mortals die, will they
live again? Is there life beyond death, he wonders, and if so what will it be like?
That question is at the heart of a question that we hear raised by the Sadducees. Yet, do
you get the impression that theres more than meets the eye in their question? Just
in case the casual reader might miss this misshaped question, Luke supplies us with a
hint: the Sadducees were a group of Jews who say there is no resurrection. Questions
are supposed to pique our interest, supposed to open new doors for discovery. Questions
imply that we are open for new thoughts, new ideas, new possibilities. Yet, this question
seems to be at a dead-end. This question comes from mind-hardened belief; from minds that
know only fossilized answers; this question only comes into story as a way to demean any
belief other than their own about the resurrection.
It must have been impossible for these guys, who were already convinced of their
theological position on the subject of the resurrection of the dead, to ask such a
question with a straight face. I imagine a stately figure telling the story and then
posing this ludicrous question with a sneering smile. Just behind him one of the Sadducees
is doubled over, pinching his nose and holding his breath, trying to keep his laugh from
exploding. Yet, I can imagine that within seconds one of them loses control and the
floodgates break open in loud, eye-tearing laughter. They are laughing at the ludicrous
idea of resurrectionof any possibility of life beyond the grave.
Its not hard to understand how this group came to their conclusion that death
ends all. First, according to the historian Josephus, the Sadducees were a group who
honored only the Torah. Everything else was "tainted" by the exile. And where in
the Torah, they wondered, was there any talk about anyone surviving death? Where did Moses
ever talk about surviving death?
No wonder the Sadducees chose such a Grimms Fairy tale about the woman and the
seven brothersthe levirate marriage code was the closest thing to resurrection they
could get. In a sense we live eternallythey reasonedthrough our children; with
our children we pass on something of ourselves. But thats it. We dont really
survive death as individualswe survive death only through our connection to the
Thats not such a far cry from the views that a lot of us still embrace today. We
call it by various names, but mostly we call it materialism, the idea that we are simply
globs of matter with no soul, no eternal part. And that this life is all we get; when we
die, we cease to exist. At the very least we exist only in memory.
When we are gripped by such a view of life, it can have disastrous impact on the few
short years we life on this earth. Wayne Cordeiro, a favorite corporation consultant,
imagines s a huge steel cable that stretches before his audiences. "With a sharp
pencil," he instructs, "make a little scratch on the cable." Okay, fine.
"Now," he says, "that little scratch is You! You could have been born in
1015 bc or maybe sometime into the future. But the fact is, you are here now, right now on
this long continuum that stretches both backward and forward into time." Cordeiro
goes on to describe what people do with their "scratch." Some folks try to
stretch it, others build beautiful homes on that scratch, some horde that scratch and
defend it with everything theyve got. "The gospel of Jesus Christ has great
plans for your scratch," he says and then adds with a gleam, God so loved the world
that he died for that scratchand rose againso that your scratch would have
real purpose in Gods plan."
The average Sadducee (Sad, You See) thinking this life was all there was, probably
tried to squeeze as much enjoyment into that little scratch as they possibly could.
Thats what many people do who really believe that this life is all we have. If you
have only this life, you might want to go for the gustonice car, companion, lots of
money, designer clothes, etc. Josephus describes how their view of death impacted their
view of life. Not sure about whether they wore swatches or not, but these individuals were
among the wealthiest of the population. They apparently dressed extravagantly, they loved
exotic artthey were lovers of Greek cultureand to maintain their lifestyle,
they collaborated with the Roman government in exchange for money and other amenities.
Whose wife will she be in the resurrection? For all seven had her! Jesus uses this
question as a great teaching opportunity. He politely explains that marriage is a
this-side-of-heaven kind of invention. Life on the other side of the
dust-to-dust-ashes-to-ashes is very different. But life it is. What is absolutely amazing
is that Jesus begins in the very parts of Scripture that they insist has nothing to say
about the resurrection.
"Lets go back to Moses since thats where this whole conversation
started," Jesus says. "Okay, now remember the burning bush incident.
"Yeah," the Sadducees acknowledge, still wiping tears from their joke from their
eyes. "Did you happen to notice the tense of the verbs there?" Eyes become wide,
shifting uneasily as they glimpse one another in their peripheral vision.
"Anyway," Jesus continues, "Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob who had in their
lifetimes trusted God, suddenly are spoken of by the God of the burning bush, as still
surviving." Isnt that interesting?
"God says I AM the God of . . . not I WAS the God of . . .
So if theyre not dead after a thousand years, what are they? Where are
"Well said, Teacher," one of them responds or someone else who has been
In a few well-turned, thoughtful words, Jesus moves the questioners to a new way of
thinking about life, death, and the resurrection.
What does this suggest about our marriages, our eternal state, and the possibility of
resurrection? We dont have in our hands this morning all the answers, but we do have
some new questions to ask: have I been living my life as if I were a Sadducee? Can I trust
Gods love for me enough to believe that God truly has a life for me that only really
begins after this life? How can I live more faithfully now in view of Gods long-term
love for me?
"The God who created us, who ordained marriage in this
life, has also provided for life after death for those who have cultivated the capacity to
respond to Gods love. If there is life beyond death, it is Gods gift to those
who have accepted Gods love and entered into relationship with God in this life:
they are children of God, being children of the resurrection" (Luke 20:36).