Beneath this seemingly flippant question lies a deep and serious concern.
retold by Deborah
Some folks who didn’t believe in the resurrection of the dead came to see Jesus.
“OK, wise guy,” they said, “We’ve got a question: suppose a woman married her high school sweetheart, but he joined the Army and was killed in combat. After a period of mourning she married again, but this man died in a traffic accident. A few years later she wed her next door neighbor, but luck was still against her and this husband also died.
“Ever-hopeful, in succession the woman married a doctor, a lawyer, and a Navaho chief — and each time she was left a widow. Finally she married a man ten years her junior, who outlived her — but eventually, of course, he also died. So how’s that going to work out at the resurrection? Whose wife would she be if they had all married her?”
Jesus said, “In the next life things are different. People don’t get married, and they don’t die again because they are like angels: God’s children, born into eternity at the resurrection.”
He watched them glance at one another and shake their heads in disbelief.
“Moses himself proved that the dead are raised,” Jesus continued, “In telling of the encounter with the burning bush he calls the Lord ‘the God of Abraham, and of Isaac, and of Jacob.’ He is not the God of the dead, but of the living: in Him they are all alive.”.
In this Gospel passage we see Jesus being called upon once again to defend his teachings. This time he is confronted by a group of people who do not believe in the resurrection of the dead. I suspect they may be a gang of bullies, as they travel in a pack, and their question smacks of the ridiculous.
In what looks like an effort to convey just how silly the idea is, these scoffers bring Jesus a convoluted tale involving a serial monogamist who was absurdly unlucky in her choice of bridegrooms. They then ask the Lord to explain how the woman’s complicated matrimonial history will be worked out in the afterlife.
Sitting here in the peanut gallery we can already feel our lips curling in distaste. Why are they wrapped up in human connections, rather than heavenly joys? “How unenlightened these people are,” we sniff, “to concern themselves with mundane, earthly entanglements, rather than raising their thoughts to the higher, finer, purer notions of the spiritual.”
We’re pretty sure they’re in the wrong, because Jesus scolded Peter for something similar: for “focusing on human concerns rather than God’s concerns” (Mt 16:22-23). It seems that the spiritual is where it’s at, and the mundane and earthly is what we must slog through until we reach those heavenly gates.
But I wonder…..
Can we honestly say that we have no interest in “human concerns”? What about the people we have met? What about the relationships we have formed in the living of our earthly, human lives? What about the love and laughter, friendship and kindness we have known? What of the hugs, the kisses, the smiles, the tender glances, the gentle touches, the encouraging words …. These human experiences lead us along the Path that leads to understanding.
It is the mundane and earthly that teaches us what ultimately matters. It is through our personal attachments and entanglements that we become more human, more humane, more holy.
And didn’t Jesus, through his incarnation, sanctify and bless “human concerns”?
We human beings are curious creatures. The promise of heaven is all well and good, but we want the specifics. Is it a gated community, or is the door always open? What are the entrance requirements? Will we get in? And — most of all, who will be there to greet us?
If there are no dogs in heaven, then when I die I want to go where they went. ~ Will Rogers
Jesus does not react to the scoffers with anger or dismissal, he does not condemn their question as misguided or wrong. He doesn’t say that such things are beyond our understanding, or scold them for their lack of faith.
He must have recognized the deep longing beneath their smirking hostility. He surely saw in their insistent denials a yearning for assurance that life does continue. He knew that the heat of their anger was fueled by hearts aflame with the desire to be reunited with those who had gone before.
As a fully human person, the Lord understood that it is natural to care passionately about these questions, because relationships matter to us.
For us, heaven won’t be heaven unless those we love are there.
Jesus replies by describing how different heaven is from what we know in this realm. All will be equal in love and affection. There will be no “first” husband with a claim of priority, no hierarchy of privilege or position; there will be no death, no estrangement, no replacement or displacement, no competition or contention. It will be the end of all striving, struggles, and resentment.
In heaven there will be eternal life, abounding joy and unending love like that of the angels.
His word was not enough for these doubters, who shook their heads in disbelief. Unable to understand, or afraid, perhaps, even to hope.
And so Jesus answers the question definitively, affirming God as the Giver of Life. He names names and cites a source that his listeners revere. Moses himself had said as much: in God all are alive.
Was the proof of the Scriptures enough to convince those who confronted the Lord that day? We do not know for certain. But perhaps it was a start; a seed planted that would deepen their understanding — of God’s power, and love’s grace. Perhaps they began to realize what is ultimately important. Perhaps it can do as much for us, as well.
Our society has become contrarian: espousing conflict and combat over conversation; intoxicated by anger, violence, and hatred; celebrating getting and spending rather than giving and sharing.
It is easy to get caught up in “the way things are,” the system is firmly in place, the behaviors are all around us, the attitude is everywhere. Yet not even the worst experiences nor the most glittering temptations can mislead us, if we keep in mind what makes heaven heavenly.
In heaven peace and compassion rule; there is no hatred or resentment, no jealousy or anger, no pushing or shoving. In heaven “stuff” has no value: love is all that matters.
The unbelieving inquirers’ question and Jesus’ reply are gifts of the Spirit to us. They are reminders of what is ultimately important. Our relationships with one another, peaceable and kind, are what matters. Our ability to understand God’s kingdom is founded in our humanity.
Constant advertising and endless marketing mantras ("Buy now, buy now, buy, buy, buy!") cannot disguise the reality that love is more important than any gift or gadget. We would give all that we have — every earthly thing — to be with those who have gone before us; to hear their voices, to see their smiles, to touch their hands again.
There are earthly treasures: they are to be found in our love and compassion. Human concerns can reveal heaven’s values: what matters is relationships built on kindness, generosity, and joy.
The foundation of God’s kingdom can be established on earth: in our love for one another.
Virtual hugs and real-time blessings,
Imagine that everyone you meet is a gift from God. Treat them accordingly.