Saturday of Week 33 of Ordinary Time – Gospel

Commentary on Luke 20:27-40

Today we move on to the middle of chapter 20 of Luke’s Gospel. In previous passages which are not included in these readings, Jesus had rebutted a challenge to his authority and left his critics literally speechless. This was followed by his speaking a parable about tenant farmers. He was clearly referring to his questioners and identifying them with the wicked tenants who abused all the emissaries (the prophets) sent by the owner of the vineyard and culminated in the killing of his son. The identity of the tenants and of the Son is clear. This is followed by Jesus being confronted with a seemingly innocuous question about paying taxes to Caesar which again resulted in the silence of his critics.

Today another group, the Sadducees, thought they might do better. The Sadducees, among whom were numbered some of the most powerful Jewish leaders, including high priests, restricted their beliefs to the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Bible, reputedly written by Moses and containing the essence of the Jewish Law.

For that reason, unlike the Pharisees, they did not accept some beliefs which occur only in later books of the Old Testament. Among these, for instance, were the existence of angels and the resurrection of the dead.

The Sadducees thought then they could stump Jesus with an unanswerable conundrum. They first quote a prescription from the Law of Moses by which a man was expected to marry the wife of his eldest brother, if there had been no children by the marriage. They then propose an imagined situation of seven brothers. The first married but was childless, so in accordance with the requirements of the Law the second married the widow, then the third and so on. Eventually, all seven brothers married the woman but there were still no children.

The unanswerable question they proposed was that, if there really was a resurrection after death, which of the seven men would be the woman’s husband in the next life? For them, there was no problem; they did not believe in the resurrection. Death was the end of everything. For one who believed in the resurrection, it was an embarrassing difficulty – or so they thought.

Jesus quickly brushes the problem aside. To begin with, in the next life there are no marriage relationships:

Those who belong to this age [i.e. those who belong this world] marry and are given in marriage, but those who are considered worthy of a place in that age and in the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage.

In the new life, all live face to face with God in a life that never ends. All are equally children of God, brothers and sisters to each other, taking their life and existence from him. That is now the focus of their relationship and it is through that relationship that they are bound together.

Jesus then goes on to challenge the Sadducees’ unbelief about life after death. He shrewdly quotes from a part of the Bible which they recognise as true. He reminds them of the scene where the voice from the burning bush identifies itself to Moses:

I AM the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. (Ex 3:6)

God, says Jesus, is the God of the living and not of the dead (i.e. of those who no longer exist). If Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are alive then the Sadducees’ argument falls. Perhaps we would not be convinced by such an argument, but it clearly worked in this case.

Some scribes who were listening in were delighted at the refutation of the Sadducees. Most of them were Pharisees and believed in the resurrection. At the same time, after these replies of Jesus to both the Pharisees and the Sadducees, “tthey no longer dared to ask him another question”.

We, of course, believe in the resurrection not so much because of Jesus’ arguments here, but because of his own resurrection and his promise to share his life with us forever.

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