In the gospels, we often see Jesus being challenged to defend his teaching. In Luke’s version (Luke 20:27-38) we note that the Sadducees express such a challenge by asking a question about marriage. Since they don’t believe in the resurrection, the challenge is posed in terms of marriage/resurrection. The question is presented in order to entrap Jesus.
Their question is based on the “Levirate” law, that is, if a married man dies and leaves no children, it is up to his brother to fulfill that task so that the family name is continued and the species is preserved. In their hypothetical case, the Sadducees speak of a man with six brothers. The first man died, so his brothers took the widow for a wife. They all died childless. So did the widow. The question was, “Whose wife shall she be since all seven brothers married her?” Jesus saw this as a trap.
Consequently, his answer was: (1)-She is not going to be anybody’s wife; and (2)-In the account of Moses and the burning bush, God began to reveal himself to Moses saying, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” (Exodus 3:6)
What did Jesus mean? Well, in the first place the Sadducees misunderstood by presupposing that earthly institutions will continue after the resurrection. Since the primary function of marriage is to perpetuate the species, there is no need to have marriage after the resurrection. So the widow won’t have to be anybody’s wife.
Secondly, God says, “I am the God of Abraham…Isaac…and Jacob.” He speaks of the present not the past. How are the patriarchs still alive? Because of the resurrection.
In the Old Testament, there was a place called SHEOL which was a shadowy place below the waters, where all those who died came to rest. At the time of Jesus, the concept of Sheol merged with the idea of resurrection (Daniel 12) in which Sheol became a place of judgement for how one behaved during earthly life. This, most likely, is why Jesus says, “The Lord is not God of of the dead, but of the living.” “Living” being those resurrected.
What can be learned from the above gospel reading? The primary learning experience can be that of realizing that there is a judgement on our behavior when we die. The basis of that judgement will be how we have treated others in this life.
The second learning experience can be that as long as we keep a positive relationship with neighbor (and, of course, with God) we will know that our relationship with God is of the “living.” Sin can destroy a good relationship. Therefore, a good and fair treatment of others will keep us in a good “living” relationship with God. The choice always remains ours.