Years ago when I was a preacher, I read the appointed lessons for the day from the pulpit. One Sunday I was reading a gospel episode (Matt. 22:23-33) in which the Sadducees put a challenge to Jesus. (The Sadducees did not believe in resurrection. Jesus and the Pharisees did.)
The Sadducees were a conservative sect. Businessmen, you might say. Most Jews at the time despised the Roman occupying forces, but the Sadducees figured if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.
The Sadducees got cushy jobs with the occupiers. Life was comfortable. When life is that good, you don’t need a better future. You’re living it now. Only desperate people long for justice in the future.
A smattering of resurrection speculation appears in the Hebrew Prophets. Ezekiel, for example, says: These dry bones will rise up someday. Our crushed people will be restored to a good and splendid life.
The Sadducees didn’t think much of the Prophets. They thought only the Torah, the Five Books of Moses, was valid. And they didn’t see any resurrection mentioned there. For them, any talk of resurrection was silly and unfounded.
Jesus thought differently. Resurrection was in the cards.
So the Sadducees put him on the spot, hoping to stump him in public.
A woman married. Her husband died. So she married her husband’s brother in order to bear an heir for her deceased husband, as the law required. That husband died without an heir. She married the next brother in line. He died and so on through seven brothers. So in the resurrection, whose wife will she be?
(The Sadducees chuckled. Jesus smiled.)
She won’t be anybody’s wife. In the Resurrection there is no marriage.
I’d read that verse many times. But suddenly I saw something I’d never seen before. I paused. (Should I say it out loud?) (No!) (But it’s…) (Don’t!) I couldn’t help myself. I said it out loud. From the pulpit!
Notice: Jesus said no marriage. He didn’t say no sex.
Three days later I got two letters.
One berated me for endorsing sex outside marriage.
The other applauded me. It was from a harried, single mom raising four children.
I’ve been going to church all my life and that’s the first time I’ve heard good news. Thank you.
There’s more than one way to read the Bible.
Check out Paula’s photo montage on the home page.
I am Catholic. I thought your idea of “there is more than one way to read the Bible” was an interesting one, and one I will think about.
Do I hear the title of your next book? Sex and the Bible: Resurrection for Nonbelievers.
The social injunction at the time that a widow was required to marry her husband’s brother is based on fear of “the other,” in other words, inheritance and outsiders getting their hands on family property and community influence (politics). Above all else, keep property and influence it in the family. Jesus was a social revolutionary, who didn’t have time to write it all down. Instead, he left the act of scribe to his followers. Thus entered interpretation. Good luck everyone! Stay well and safe.
No marriage in the Resurrection piques my interest more than that she’s having sex out of wedlock. While I am (happily) married, as I get older (and yes, even back when I got married) I see marriage as a way the system (our system) bestows ownership. The system may have done it to place women in ownership by their husband, but I do see it also as the wife having ownership over the husband too. (He is mine, and I am his.) It’s interesting how we humans need possession(s) to feel safe. I do see the overall theme of Jesus’ in these verses still: no possessions are needed in the state of Heaven.
As my Methodist minister grandfather said, a bit of humor from the pulpit is always welcomed.