Luke 20:27-38

This text is used for the Lectionary Year C on November 6th, 2016.

This is no easy text to preach, but it poses an additional challenge for those preachers who observe All Saints Sunday on the Sunday following All Saints Day (Nov 1st). Add to the difficulty of the text itself the reality that many loved ones will be in attendance to remember those saints (“soulmates”) who have passed on, and many preachers will be passing on this text in favor of one of the other lectionary options. There’s also an opportunity that accompanies this challenge, though, to offer theological interpretation over and above sentimentality.

The Sadducees, most likely deriving their name from Zadok (righteous), the first high priest of Solomon’s temple, did not believe in the resurrection. They followed the Torah, but not any oral traditions, which put them at odds with Pharisees. Because the Torah did not allude to an afterlife, the Sadducees did not believe in it. As they follow on the heels of consecutive stories in chapter 20, where Luke highlights the attempts of the religious establishment to ensnare Jesus in religious legalese, the Sadducees bring up a practice from Deuteronomy 25 known as Levirate marriage. We see a couple examples of this in the Old Testament and the Ancient Near East, the most prominent being the story of Ruth and her kinsman-redeemer, Boaz.

For the Sadducees, they hope to embarrass Jesus with their trap while dispelling with the absurdity of the resurrection and an afterlife. Instead, Jesus flips their question on its head; theirs is the absurd notion. For one, they failed to comprehend their own sacred texts. Jesus refers to the proclamation at the burning bush, quoting from the Torah: I am the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. God is a God of the living. One can’t help wondering if this further muddied their hermeneutic, considering how Jacob was married to two women concurrently.

Further though, Jesus explains that people of this age (perhaps the “righteous” Sadducees?) care about marriages and propagating their lineage (marriage as procreation) and legacies (marriage as inheritance), but the ones worthy of the next age have no need to worry; their identity and worth is secured as “children of God.”

It is here that we are reminded of the important implications of proclaiming a theology of resurrection. It is not about a recapitulation of the way things are; resurrection is not simply a reset to the beginning. A theology of resurrection expands our imaginations of a God who creates something new: new heaven, new earth, new life, and not merely the same old, same old. That informs our perceptions of the next life even as it imbues our present life with hope.

The implications for hearers today cannot be understated. Beyond the gift of hope the resurrection offers those who are grieving death, the resurrection offers a way forward for those who can’t conceive of a new life. For those stuck in abusive or failing marriages, those who feel as though their self-worth is predicated on being someone’s spouse, those who are deemed as nothing more than property or a means for procreation and propagation of lineage and legacy—resurrection offers the hope of something new, beyond the flawed institutions of religions and cultures and laws, and it offers the hope of something more—that there is more to the next life than a continuation of the same.

Jesus speaks of an age when none will marry or “be given in marriage,” when the autonomy of the individual is fully respected and embraced as a child of God. We seek the justice and equity of such a day with the in-breaking of God’s kingdom, but only in the resurrection will that reality be fully realized. In the life to come, the God who is love will be fully revealed, upending our institutions, expanding our conceptions, and transcending our limited understandings.

While most students of the Scriptures know to use caution when cross-referencing outside a particular book or letter of the Scriptures, one story from John’s Gospel cannot be far from the preacher’s mind. The Samaritan woman, herself married several times, encounters Jesus at the well of Jacob, the same Jacob who had two wives. It is here that Jesus self-identifies as “I Am” (John 4:26), an obvious reference to the same revelation of God’s at the burning bush. It’s here at this well of Jacob that we come to a theologically rich moment of intersectionality: of Jesus, I Am, Jacob, I Am the God of Jacob, this woman, eternal life, marriage. It’s here that Jesus offers her the living water of eternal life.

We can surmise from the two stories, two drastically different responses to Jesus’ revelation of the afterlife. The Samaritan woman found the hope of the resurrection to be life-giving in her present context, as she told her city of the God of the living. The Sadducees left silenced and sulking, left to debate what the definition of “I Am” really was.

To the Sadducees, this entire encounter was a philosophical exercise—where even the woman was reduced to a function. For Jesus, he saw real people, those who called themselves “righteous,” and those who actually were. And for them, life didn’t boil down to inheritance and having children; it boiled down to being “children”—children of God. On All Saints Sunday, there may be no more fitting way to remember the righteous who’ve gone on before us: as beloved children of God.


newberry-picBrent A. Newberry
The First Baptist Church of Worcester, Massachusetts




Tags: resurrection, afterlife, marriage, children, righteous, I Am

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