Sadducees, those who say there is no resurrection, came to him and asked him a question, "Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man's brother dies, leaving a wife but no children, the man shall marry the widow and raise up children for his brother. Now there were seven brothers; the first married, and died childless; then the second and the third married her, and so in the same way all seven died childless. Finally the woman also died. In the resurrection, therefore, whose wife will the woman be? For the seven had married her." Jesus said to them, "Those who belong to this age marry and are given in marriage; but those who are considered worthy of a place in that age and in the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage. Indeed they cannot die anymore, because they are like angels and are children of God, being children of the resurrection. And the fact that the dead are raised Moses himself showed, in the story about the bush, where he speaks of the Lord as the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. Now he is God not of the dead, but of the living; for to him all of them are alive." Then some of the scribes answered, "Teacher, you have spoken well." For they no longer dared to ask him another question.
The Sadducees are here with their trick question about the resurrection. They were just making fun of the idea of a life after death. Their visit can be an occasion for us to think about it.
There are two main approaches to the question of life beyond death: the philosophical and the religious.
In philosophical reflection the question is about the immortality of the soul. ‘Immortal’ means ‘undying’: the suggestion is that the human soul is such that it cannot die. In practice it is very hard to make an argument of this kind without indulging in some kind of human vanity. Every day we see all forms of life passing away; it is hard to see why we should be the sole exception. Death, said a biologist, is the greatest invention: it keeps life forever young.
The other approach is quite different. The Scriptures speak of the resurrection of the dead, not of the immortality of the soul. In the world of the Scriptures the whole person falls into the power of death; and if there is any possibility of deliverance from this power, it is not established by arguments about the immortality of the soul but rather through belief that God will raise us up, as he raised Jesus. As the Liturgy says, “In him our hope of resurrection dawned.” Belief in the resurrection is a belief about God, not a belief about ourselves. Even in the case of Jesus, the Scriptures do not say that he “rose from the dead,” but that “God raised him from death” (see, for example, Acts 2:24).
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