A sermon preached at St Mary’s, Iffley by Graham Low on 7th June 2023
This passage presents us with perspectives on the life to come which are not entirely consistent with much popular belief. Let us look at it in a bit of detail.
This is the only time that the Sadducees are mentioned in Mark’s gospel. They are a relatively minor group of wealthy and aristocratic people, conservative in attitude and including many of the senior priests. They are accustomed to comfort and privilege and collaborate with the Roman government. They attach much more importance to the Pentateuch than the rest of the Old Testament, with its rules and regulations, beloved of the Pharisees. They say that the early books give no evidence for immortality and do not accept it. So they ask Jesus an absurd question about levirate marriage in Jewish Law. When a child is born it is assumed to be the child of the original husband, even though he or she may have died. This ensures that the family name continues and that property remains with the family. Greek law of the time also ensures that property and the family name continues through the male line. So, odd as the question is, it is based on well-known Jewish law.
So, in accordance with levirate law, whose wife is she at the resurrection. By asking this question they are making the whole idea of resurrection seem to be ridiculous.
Jesus’ answer has two parts. Firstly, he deals with the manner of the resurrection. After resurrection the old physical laws of life do not apply. The risen are like the angels. Marriage no longer exists. There is nothing new in this. The rabbinic writings indicate that there will be no eating and drinking, no birth of children, no jealousy, bargaining, hatred or strife. The righteous will be with God. Jesus is stating that the life to come cannot be though of in terms of the life we lead now.
Secondly, Mark depicts Jesus as a person speaking of the resurrection as a fact. The Sadducees stress that there is no immortality, but in Exodus 3.6 we read that God is the God of Abraham, of Isaac and of Jacob. This implies that these three people continue to live. He argues that God is the God of living people and of those beyond death. If these three patriarchs are alive then the resurrection is proved. On their own grounds, and with an argument they can not challenge, the Sadducees are defeated.
This passage is about topics that are inevitably outside our own experience. But two points are worth noting. Firstly, the Sadducees make the mistake of shaping their ideas of heaven in terms of their images of the earth. This has always happened and goes on among a vast number of people today. This is reflected in the words and music that people choose for funerals. Heaven is portrayed as a place where there is no more pain, no more sorrow, where sensual and bodily pleasure abound.
As Paul wrote to the Corinthians, quoting the prophet Isaiah, “what no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the human heart conceived, what God has prepared for those who love Him”. The life of heaven will be abundantly more than anything we can imagine.
A second conviction about the resurrection that Jesus makes here is that the relationship between God and a person who loves God can never be broken: it is timeless. God was the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob when they lived, loving God. Here we read that that friendship did not end with death.
Within the heart of the mystery of life after death, there is one immortal state or way, which is love. If God is truly God, then we believe that as the God of the living he will not allow his care and concern for human beings to be destroyed by death. Amen.