The Sadducees could not have put a trickier question to Jesus than this one about the widow with seven husbands. While it is a hypothetical story it is also quite an outlandish one since after two or three of the brothers marrying this woman in order to ‘raise up children for their brother’ it must have dawned on them that she was actually barren and unable to have children.
Of course, this story they present to Jesus is ultimately a theoretical construct devised by the Sadducees to catch him out. We all know that their principal belief was a denial of the resurrection and so this story which purports to believe in the resurrection is unmasked fairly quickly as just another trick question.
It actually betrays the way the Sadducees think because as far as they were concerned there was no resurrection. According to them the only way a man could live after death was by handing his name on to the next generation. We might regard this handing on of one’s name as a very poor substitute for the resurrection but since the Sadducees only accepted the first five books of the Bible they had not progressed in their religious understanding and their sect was effectively a religious relic from a previous age.
Jesus has no truck with these Sadducees and points out that when we get to heaven everything will be completely different to the things of this earth. He tells them that when we get to heaven we will be like the angels and have no need to marry. He goes on to point out that even Moses had a belief in the afterlife, something which completely undermines the whole basis of their religious understanding.
So this encounter with the Sadducees is revealed as another encounter between Jesus and those who oppose him. It is another little skirmish in their plan eventually to put him to death. Jesus swats them like a fly. Actually our text stops at verse 38 but verse 40 says, ‘No one dared to ask him any more questions.’ That brings the controversy to an end and Jesus is able to continue his ministry of teaching.
As a priest you get asked a lot of questions about what happens after death and what things will be like in heaven. They are not exactly like that tricky question asked by the Sadducees but people do want to know whether they will be reunited with their loved ones when they die.
Often when someone does die and we are celebrating the funeral we do place some stress on them being reunited with their husband or wife particularly if they have lived a long and happy married life together.
But one has to express sentiments such as these with a little care since we do not actually know what life will be like in heaven. All we do know is that it will be very different from the way things are here on earth. We will have moved to a completely different plane; we will be taken up into God and be living a life so full of love that it will be completely unrecognisable to us who have not yet reached that blessed state.
So when we say that a couple will be reunited after death while we are not telling any lies we are not telling the whole truth since we do not know precisely what will happen after death. Yes, couples will be reunited but both of them will be caught up in a love that we cannot even begin to comprehend from our present earth-bound perspective.
Jesus concludes his response to the Sadducees by saying that, ‘he is God not of the dead but the living, for to him all men are in fact alive.’
By this Jesus means that all people whenever they were born and even if they have already passed away are still alive. This is a profound belief in the resurrection. This means that our real life is not here on this earth but is actually in heaven. It is in heaven that we will acquire our true and lasting status; it is in heaven that we will be resurrected and enabled to live in love with God forever.
It is impossible for us to know what things will be like on the other side of death. We are earth-bound creatures and can only comprehend things by what we see around us. But beyond death we move into a completely different dimension. We will be taken up into God and see things through his eyes. It is only then that we will actually begin to understand what everything is really like.
We are in the month of November and we are thinking very much about those who have died and in particular the members of our own families and anyone with whom we have a connection. We place the names of our loved ones before the altar and include them in our masses during this special month devoted to the Holy Souls.
It is a good thing during the month of November to add the prayer for the dead to our Grace after Meals. ‘May the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.’
We pray that the Holy Souls will receive a merciful judgement from God and be cleansed of their sins. We feel united with them because we know that while we can assist them with our prayers they too are able to assist us with their prayers.
We are both able to help each other. This recognises the great unity that exists between the Church on earth and the Church in heaven. It is one Church which is focussed on the worship of God gathered either around the altar of our Church or around the table of the heavenly banquet.
These two Churches, the Church Militant, that is the one here on earth, and the Church Triumphant, that is the one in heaven, are essentially one. We are united in our faith in and worship of God and only separated by the veil of death.
We are told that our true homeland is heaven. It is for heaven that we long, it is for heaven that we prepare ourselves, and it is to heaven that we look for the fulfilment of our final destiny.
Father Alex McAllister SDS
Parish Priest of
St Thomas à Becket