Worship Sunday at 10:30

Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

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We Belong to God

Time after Pentecost
November 11, 2007
Luke 20:27-38
Bethany Lutheran Church

There are some problems with the question posed by the Sadducees, but it seems all to similar to questions that we often wonder about today. For starters, the question is hypothetical and the situation has never actually existed. This group of Sadducees has approached Jesus in the temple. They were full of doubt and did not believe in the resurrection. They were struggling themselves with questions of how to interpret the scriptures. Some biblical scholars even suggest that the Sadducees approached Jesus with the intentions of shaming him, thinking that he would not be able to answer their question.

The second problem with the question is that it is based upon an ancient Jewish custom where if a woman’s husband died, leaving her childless, then the woman would be married to the husband’s next younger brother. It was a way of ensuring that the family name “lived” on, a sort of afterlife for the deceased. Also, in this understanding of marriage, the woman would have been highly regarded as a piece of property for making a man prosperous in children.

Since we no longer have this custom in our current culture, let us revise the hypothetical situation into one that is very real for us. The realities of divorce are very present in our culture, so let us ask the Sadduccean question: If a woman is married to a man and if she then divorces him and marries another man, with which husband will she be in heaven? Of course the riddle gets more complex when additional marriages and divorces are a reality or when children are part of the situation. But surely children are not divided in heaven over matters of joint custody.

The Sadduccean question is also relevant for us when we consider the situation where a man and woman are married for many years. When the man dies, the woman becomes a widow while she remains on this earth. If that widow remarries, with which husband will she be with in heaven? Of course the more pressing question that we find ourselves dealing with at times of death is the place of burial. With which husband should she be buried?

If we consider that these questions were asked by the Sadducees, then we can consider them as a trick posed to Jesus by people who were bringing him down. The Sadducees did not believe in the resurrection but yet here they were asking questions about it. Yet at the same time, the doubting of the resurrection points to a deep need for these individuals. For even those who do not believe are just as much in need of life. The question posed to Jesus repeatedly mentions brother after brother who died. In this question of the Sadducees, it almost sounds as if death is winning over life.

Despite the absurdity of the question, Jesus takes it seriously and answers it. But he does not give us the answer we were hoping to hear. We are so accustomed to straight forward answers. The question posed to Jesus seems simple and should warrant a simple answer. With which brother will the woman be with in the resurrection? Number one, number two, number three, etc., etc., number seven. Yet Jesus will not be caught in this trick by attempting to prioritize or manage these intricate relationships of this complex resurrected family. Instead, Jesus shifts the playing field and refocuses the question. He contrasts the children of this age and the children of that age. He denies that God is a God of the dead and instead insists that God is a God of the living. The question that the Sadducees has asked becomes irrelevant since we are no longer able to die. Remarriage for the continuation of one’s name is irrelevant when death is no longer a threat to one’s life.

In case all of this has been gibberish, let me try to summarize Jesus’ answer. The question that the Sadducees have asked is “to who does this woman belong in heaven?” The answer that Jesus gives is that “she belongs to God.” God is the God of those who continue to live. God is the God of those who are children for life, a relationship that does not know death. God is a God of the living, even for those who seem to us to be dead. There must be a resurrection, since God’s very definition is one who continues to be in relationship. “For all are alive to God.”

Are we not like the Sadducees, full of questions and all too easily caught up into disbelief? We have many questions, and we want the answers to be straight forward and simple. We have many complicated situations in our current culture that fall under those “gray areas” of the Bible. We have fouled everything up and we want desperately to make it all right, and yet in the process of doing so, we wind up making more and more mistakes. Yet we give thanks to God for we are alive. And no matter how many times we make a mistake or make a bad judgment call, we will still be alive for it is not our interpretation of scripture that matters. Rather, it is Christ’s interpretation of scripture that counts, it is Christ’s interpretation of scripture that continually calls us back from death into life, from places of loneliness and alienation back to a place within the community.

If we really believed marriage to be only for this age, then all of the questions surrounding marriage would become irrelevant. We would not have to worry over questions such as whether divorce is biblical or not or even whether gay marriage should be permitted. And yet that seems to be precisely what Jesus is telling us here in this gospel text. That seems to be the radical good news for this Sunday. It ultimately does not matter. At the resurrection, it will not matter who has been married to who. What matters is that we are all alive in Christ. What matters is that our God is a God of the living. As the woman in the question posed by the Sadducees ultimately belongs to God, so too do we belong to God.

I do not mean to undermine the earthly institution of marriage, please do not mistake me. Marriage is very important for us in this age precisely because it is yet another way through which we are able to experience love and to express love. “Marriage is a gift of God, intended for the joy and mutual strength of those who enter it and for the well-being of the whole human family. God created us … and blessed humankind with the gifts of companionship, the capacity to love, and the care and nurture of children. Jesus affirmed the covenant of marriage and revealed God’s own self-giving love on the cross. [It is] the Holy Spirit [who] helps those who are united in marriage to be living signs of God’s grace, love, and faithfulness.” (excerpt from ELW: Marriage, p 286)

It is a wonderful thing for us to love and to be loved. It is an even more wonderful thing to know that you are alive and that you belong to God. 

Vicar Luke Smetters


Bethany Lutheran Church
715 Mather Avenue
Ishpeming, MI 49849

Phone: 906-486-4351
Fax: 906-486-9640

Rev. Warren Geier, Pastor

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