Mark 12, 18-27 no. 37 Nov 24

As we have seen organizational tool of Mark consists of Jesus’ meeting his opponents, one after the other, and answers arguments specific to each of these opponents. Jesus had cleansed the Temple (a prophetic or messianic gesture), only to be challenged by the Sanhedrin who asks by what authority Jesus does this; the Sanhedrin is the legal body that is ultimately responsible for order in the Temple area. As Israel’s leaders, Jesus responds to them with a parable about ’tenant farmers’ who will be put to death for their opposition to the master of the vineyard. Then Pharisees and Herodians, opponents of each other, unite to put Jesus in a situation from which he is not supposed to escape: the former hate Rome and its taxations, the latter support Rome, for Herod Antipas represents Rome and its tax policy. Jesus leaves an enigmatic answer with them, but a very clear teaching that they must know they belong to God, for they carry, or are created in the image of God. Now it is the Sadducees’ turn, those since their beginning about 180 BC, held that there will be no resurrection from the dead. This belief was founded on the Pentateuch, the first five books of the OT, admittedly books which have little affirmation of the resurrection of the dead. A fictitious ’woman married seven times’ is based on the OT obligation (called the levirate law – ’levirate’ means brother-in-law) that a wife, whose husband dies without children, should be married by the husband’s ’brother’ – so that children will be born and the family inheritance thus kept within the family. The intention of this story is to show how silly is the idea of the resurrected life; imagine, the Sadducees say, if all seven husbands die without producing a child, whose wife will she be? If these people obey the levirate law of Moses, does not the resulting situation the Sadducees have described put the woman and the seven men in a ridiculous, indeed impossible situation? The only just conclusion is that the afterlife does not exist; it is more reasonable to say that than to say who will be the woman’s husband! But, Jesus argues, the afterlife is not like this life. Here, there is death; indeed, because of death there should be some mechanism to preserve the inheritance despite death. The solution is to outfox death through intra-family marriage, even if this be required a number of times. In the next life, however, there will be no death; the risen will be like the angels who never die. Thus, marriage is necessary in this world because death is part of this world, but marriage is not necessary in the next world because death does not exist there, and so the need for marriage that saves inheritance is not necessary. The Sadducees show by their story that they do not understand what the risen life is. Worse, Jesus now shows them that they do not understand the very Scriptures (the Pentateuch) on which their belief is based. Jesus does not cite the OT prophets, who believed in resurrection from the dead, but he cites the very books the Sadducees think they understand. God told Abraham, Jesus says, that "I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob" (Exodus 3, 6 – the second book of the Pentateuch). But Abraham, Isaac and Jacob died long before Moses met God at the burning bush. Using Sadduceean logic, God should then have said, "I was the God of Abraham...", since according to the Sadducees, the Patriarchs no long live; for them, the Patriarchs are past tense, not present tense. Yet, God says He is their God, which then is properly understood to mean that they are alive before Me. The Patriarchs did not used to be, where God is concerned; where God is concerned, they are. They are, and never will stop being present to God. As Jesus concludes, "How greatly misled you are about the afterlife and about the desire of God to have all people live with Him forever! Compared to Jesus, the Sadducees offer poor hope to the human situation we know; Jesus offers the sublime assurance that in God’s eyes we will live forever. John Kilgallen, SJ
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