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Moses Fourth Sunday

Seasons of Elijah-Cross-Moses

Fourth Sunday of Moses: Matthew 22:23-33
HE IS GOD NOT OF THE DEAD, BUT OF THE LIVING

INTRODUCTION

Various people had discussions with Jesus on the issues of faith. Some, like Nicodemus and Samaritan woman, had good intentions during their questioning of Jesus and his answers were convincing to them. However, others like Pharisees and Sadducees questioned Jesus to trap him. The Sadducees’ interrogation of Jesus on the life after death benefitted the bystanders who could hear from Jesus some truth about afterlife. Jesus revealed that life after death differs from life in this world. Those who inherit heaven will be like angels. Let us strive for such a sublime life by making use of the resources God gives us in this life.

BIBLE TEXT

(Matthew 22:23) That same day, some of the Sadducees came to Jesus. Since they claimed that there was no resurrection, they questioned him like this, (24) “Master, Moses said that if a man dies childless, his brother must marry the widow and raise up children for his dead brother. (25) Now, there were seven brothers among us. The first married a wife, and he died; since he had no children, he left his wife to his brother. (26) The same thing happened to the second and to the third and so on until the seventh. (27) Then, last of all, the woman also died. (28) Now, in the resurrection of the dead, which of the seven will have her as wife, for all of them had married her?” (29) Jesus answered, “You are totally wrong because you understand neither the Scriptures nor the power of God. (30) First of all, in the resurrection of the dead, neither men nor women will marry, but they will be like the angels in heaven. (31) And about the resurrection of the dead, have you never reflected on what God said to you: (32) I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob? He is God not of the dead but of the living.” (33) The people who heard him were astonished at his teaching.

INTERPRETATION

(Matthew 22:23) That same day, some of the Sadducees came to Jesus. Since they claimed that there was no resurrection, they questioned him like this.

The Pharisees tested Jesus by sending their disciples along with the Herodians on paying tax to the Roman emperor (Matthew 22:15-22). Jesus answered them by saying: “give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and to God what belongs to God.” (Mt. 22:21). Then came the Sadducees to test Jesus with another question.

The Sadducees
The Sadducees were a Jewish priestly sect active during the public ministry of Jesus and flourished around two centuries before the Roman army destroyed the Temple of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. Though their origin and early history is not clear now, their name derived from the Zadok, the High Priest at the time of King David and Solomon. Zadok was also a descendant of Aaron, from the tribe of Levi (1 Chronicles 27:17).

Zadok’s descendants controlled the Temple service and administration. Eventually the Sadducees came under the influence of Greek culture and tied up with the Roman rulers of Palestine to keep up their position in the Temple. They became money obsessed and a rich priestly class by generating income from the Temple. They were rivals with another dominant Jewish sect of the time, the Pharisees. However, Sadducees had controlled the Temple and its priesthood. St. Luke records that when the Jews brought the apostles for trial in front of the Sanhedrin, “The high priest and all his supporters, that is, the party of the Sadducees, became very jealous of the apostles.” (Acts 5:17).

The Sadducees focused their belief and teachings on Torah, the first five books of the Bible. They did not accept the other Biblical books, including the prophets and other writings. Thus, unlike the Pharisees, they denied the oral traditions, immortality of the soul, resurrection of the dead, and the existence of angels. Acts 23:8 states: “The Sadducees claim that there is neither resurrection, nor angels nor spirits, while the Pharisees acknowledge all these things.”

Though conservative, their greed for wealth made them compromise with the Roman administrators to keep up their authority. So, the common people hated their approach. The Sadducees had a significant role in the crucifixion of Jesus. Since Sadducees took care of the Temple worship, that group disappeared from history with the destruction of the Temple in 70 A.D.

The Sadducees raised the hypothetical question because of their disagreement with Jesus on the resurrection and the life after death. They denied these because resurrection was not clear in the Torah, which was their only accepted Holy Scripture. So, they planned a scenario to question Jesus that they thought would make him stop teaching on the resurrection. They might have raised the same question to the Pharisees, who could not give a reasonable answer. Unlike Pharisees, Jesus who came down from heaven could answer because he was sure on the life after death.

(24) “Master, Moses said that if a man dies childless, his brother must marry the widow and raise up children for his dead brother.”

The Sadducees were referring to the law of Levirate Marriage given in the book of Deuteronomy. The word levirate derives from the Latin word “levir” meaning “brother-in-law.” According to this law, “If two brothers live together and one of them dies with no child, the wife of the dead man shall not marry anyone other than the brother of her husband. He shall take her as his wife and shall raise offspring for his brother. The first son she bears will perpetuate the name and the family of the dead. In this way his name shall not be wiped out from Israel. If the brother-in-law refuses to take her for his wife, she shall present herself at the city gate and say to the elders, ‘My brother-in-law refuses to perpetuate his brother’s name in Israel. He does not want to perform his duty as the brother-in-law in my favor.’ Then the elders of the city shall summon this man and speak to him. If he persists and says: ‘I do not want to take her for my wife,’ his sister-in-law shall go up to him and in the presence of the elders remove his sandal from his foot, spit in his face and say these words: ‘So shall it be done to the man who will not perpetuate the name of his brother.’ His family shall be called in Israel ‘the House of One Deprived of Sandals.’” (Deut. 25:5-10). The purpose of this law was to continue the family line and property of a deceased person. 

(25) Now, there were seven brothers among us. The first married a wife, and he died; since he had no children, he left his wife to his brother. (26) The same thing happened to the second and to the third and so on until the seventh.

According to Biblical numerology number seven represents completion. In this made-up story, the Sadducees presented seven brothers who all married the same lady one after another, and none of them had any child from her. Though she was wife to all, six were marrying her on behalf of their elder brother or brothers. All the six kept the Levirate Marriage Law. But their attempts were in vain.

(27) Then, last of all, the woman also died.

Even though the woman married all the seven brothers, she died childless. If she had a child from one of them, she could be the definite wife of that brother. This made the puzzle difficult to answer.

(28) Now, in the resurrection of the dead, which of the seven will have her as wife, for all of them had married her?

Though the Sadducees did not believe in the life after death, they presumed that Jesus and others like Pharisees, who believed in the resurrection, were considering the same state of marital relations in the life after death. Because of that false presumption, they asked Jesus, who would be the husband of the woman who married all the seven brothers one after another. All of them had equal rights on her, and she could not be the wife of all the seven brothers at the same time. Though some men in the Bible had more than one wife, no woman could have more than one husband. The reason was that a woman was under the law of her husband until he died (1Cor. 7:39).

(29) Jesus answered, “You are totally wrong because you understand neither the Scriptures nor the power of God.”

Jesus’ answer to the Sadducees’ question was a comment that they were mistaken for two reasons: Their lack of scriptural knowledge and their deficiency in understanding God’s power. They limited their acceptance of the Holy Scripture to Pentateuch and made their own assumptions rather than being open to understand God’s message. They also should have realized that God is all-powerful, and the world to come is perfect and different from what we have in the present age. Jesus was giving a direct blow to them who were in top rank as priests and members of the Sanhedrin.

(30) First of all, in the resurrection of the dead, neither men nor women will marry, but they will be like the angels in heaven.

The life after resurrection is different. Marriage, along with family responsibilities in this world, is a divine design for companionship (Genesis 2:18), procreation (Genesis 1:28), and rearing children (Proverbs 22:6). The risen life would differ from this world. It is a world of perfection, immortality, and without procreation.

According to Jesus, the life after resurrection is different. Those who reach heaven will be like angels. There are differences between humans and angels. Though God created both angels (Colossians 1:16) and humans, He created only humans in His image and likeness (Genesis 1:26). Humans and some group of angels sinned. Jesus died for the humans’ salvation. So, only humans receive forgiveness, and not the fallen angels (2 Peter 2:4). Only humans marry and generate children. The angels have “superior strength and power” (2 Peter 2:11). They exist in heaven, which is a higher level of existence than the physical universe (Matthew 18:10, Rev. 5:11-12). Thus, Jesus affirmed that the humans whom he saves will be on a higher level in heaven than their life and relationships at present in this world. Jesus confirmed the existence of angels to Sadducees who had denied that.

(31) “And about the resurrection of the dead, have you never reflected on what God said to you: (32) I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob? He is God not of the dead but of the living.”

When God spoke to Moses at Mount Sinai, He said: “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.” (Exodus 3:6). When God told this to Moses, centuries had gone after these forefathers had died. However, God acknowledged their existence even after their death. Though the verse did not specify the resurrection, it implied their survival after death. Sadducees could not deny any quote from Pentateuch because they adhered to their belief in the first five books of the Bible.

God is the source and master of life. Death is only a byproduct of sin. By Jesus’ resurrection, he gained the victory over death. Even during his public life, Jesus raised three people from the dead: Daughter of Jairus (Mark 5:22-43), a widow’s son in the town of Nain (Luke 7:11-15), and Lazarus (John 11:1-44). Jesus had this discussion on the resurrection on Tuesday of the Holy Week. So, Jesus had his resurrection also in mind when he told this. After his death, Jesus descended into the lower regions of the earth (Ephesians 4:9). “Gospel has been preached even to the dead, that though judged in body like everyone else, in the spirit they might live like God.” (1Peter 4:6). So, God continues his relationship with His people even after their death. Jesus Christ will judge the living and the dead “by his appearing and his kingly power.” (2 Timothy 4:1). Jesus promised the eternal reward for those who serve him. “Everyone who has left houses, brothers, sisters, father, mother, children or property for my name’s sake will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life.” (Matthew 19:29). So, God continues to be the master of those who live after death.

(33) The people who heard him were astonished at his teaching.

Unlike the Pharisees, who also believed in the resurrection and the angels, Jesus could answer the Sadducees because he came down from heaven. The Pharisees and others who held the same belief could very well appreciate the answer of Jesus. No one had given such a clear and convincing answer as Jesus did. That made the listeners express their amazement at the response and teaching of Jesus.

MESSAGE

1. The Sadducees’ intention in questioning Jesus was to trap him rather than to learn from him. Some people raise religious questions to express their skill or to put down the preacher. Questioning on faith topics will benefit the enquirer only if it is out of a good intention.

2. The Sadducees believed that the wealth of this world was God’s gift based on His covenant with their ancestors. “Remember the LORD, your God, for it is he who gave you power to acquire this wealth, thus fulfilling at this time the covenant he had promised under oath to your fathers.” (Deut. 8:18). Though this is true, according to Jesus, those who make themselves poor for the glory of God are rich in heaven. (Luke 6:20). The Sadducees were wealthy. But they used it for their own enjoyment without consideration for the underprivileged.

3. The Sadducees failed to look beyond the happiness of this life. Since they did not believe in the life after death, they did not gain any virtue by the works of charity. Jesus asked us to consider our resources like wealth, time, and abilities as talents God entrusted to us to take care of others who are also God’s children, and our brothers and sisters. We also shall not get stuck with the temporal happiness of this life. Our goal shall be the eternal joy for which we should sacrifice the temporal good and worldly happiness, just like the apostles who gave up everything for the Kingdom of God.

4. Jesus criticized the Sadducees for their misunderstanding of the Word of God. Let us ask God’s grace for a clear understanding of the Bible rather than manipulating it to justify our evils.

5. Jesus criticized Sadducees for their misunderstanding of the power of God. We also should acknowledge the power and wisdom of God who would reestablish a new heaven and a new earth of perfection. “Behold I am going to create new heavens and a new earth; the former things will no more be remembered, nor will they come to mind again.” (Isaiah 65:17).

6. The life after death is a mystery and beyond our human understanding. From the words of Jesus, we know that it is far from perfect and different from this world. Jesus said: “In my Father’s house there are many rooms; if it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And as I go now to prepare a place for you, I shall come again and take you to myself, that where I am, you also may be.” (John 14:2-3). Let us be hopeful and strive for this world of perfection where we will live like angels.