Today’s Chocolate: Green & Black’s Organic Milk Chocolate with Almonds
Today’s Passage: Luke 20
Luke 20 is basically a religious judo match between Jesus and the Jewish religious elites. They exchange quandaries, parables, and counter-arguments; the scribes and chief priests even enlist double-agent disciples to try to catch Jesus in some error and find a pretext for getting him in trouble with the Roman authorities. Each time he prevails, however, and at the end of the chapter he presents a puzzle of his own about the nature of the Messiah. I was particularly struck by his debate with the Sadducees over the resurrection, so let’s turn our attention there.
The Sadducees pose a question intended to highlight the absurdity of resurrection from the dead, but their scenario brought to my attention how weird some of the laws in Deuteronomy are. The case they present features a widow who, per the Torah, marries the brother of her deceased husband in order to continue her family line. Then the brother dies, and so does the next brother she marries, and so on, for the entire family of brothers. Jesus’ interlocutors ask, “In the resurrection therefore, which one’s wife will she be?” (33). A second, eternal life, they posit, makes nonsense of the Law of Moses and therefore cannot be possible.
But I went to look up the line of the Law that they’re quoting, and things got weird. The verse in question is Deuteronomy 25:5:
When brothers live together and one of them dies and has no son, the wife of the deceased shall not be married outside the family to a strange man. Her husband’s brother shall go in to her and take her to himself as wife and perform the duty of a husband’s brother to her.
Did you notice? The practice described here, known as “levirate marriage,” is mandatory. Moreover, the Law goes on to say that if the brother declines his duties, the widow is required to spit in the brother’s face and pull off his sandal with the elders as witnesses. Public shaming for those who don’t marry their brothers’ widows in order to continue their brothers’ family lineage is built into the Torah. And that’s nuts.
Jesus, though, explains that there is no marriage in the resurrection, the “age to come.” Marriage is a thing for people who die, because it ensures that a dead person’s children will succeed them. If you’re going to live forever, like angels or God himself, you have no need to reproduce. Jesus shows the Sadducees’ argument as question-begging; they’ve already assumed that there is no resurrection, so they conclude that God’s revelation through Moses must preclude resurrected life. But Jesus counters by pointing out that God, described by Moses as “the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob” (37), is the God of the living, not the dead. The two-pronged response silences his critics, and some scribes even concede his point.
Do you ever think about how you won’t be married to your spouse in heaven? As a single guy, this passage reminds me that if I ever get married, the marriage is done for good as soon as one of us dies. But fellowship in Christ is built to last, whether with one’s spouse or with any of the billions upon billions of Christians who are not one’s spouse. Marriage is important, no question. But it’s still possible to overvalue the marriage relationship, even to idolize it.
But then, as a single guy, what do I know about marriage? Very little, I suppose, but I do know what Jesus teaches about it here, and what Jesus teaches here is that marriage isn’t forever. Eternal life is.