In this reading for the 5th/6th November, in an exchange which demonstrates the increasing hostility of the Jewish leaders, Jesus refutes the position of the Sadducees in relation to the life of the resurrection.
27 Some Sadducees – those who say that there is no resurrection – approached Jesus and they put this question to him, 28 ‘Master, we have it from Moses in writing, that if a man’s married brother dies childless, the man must marry the widow to raise up children for his brother. 29 Well, then, there were seven brothers. The first, having married a wife, died childless. 30 The second 31 and then the third married the widow. And the same with all seven, they died leaving no children. 32 Finally the woman herself died. 33 Now, at the resurrection, to which of them will she be wife since she had been married to all seven?’
34 Jesus replied, ‘The children of this world take wives and husbands, 35 but those who are judged worthy of a place in the other world and in the resurrection from the dead do not marry 36 because they can no longer die, for they are the same as the angels, and being children of the resurrection they are sons of God. 37 And Moses himself implies that the dead rise again, in the passage about the bush where he calls the Lord the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob. 38 Now he is God, not of the dead, but of the living; for to him all men are in fact alive.’
Once Jesus arrives in Jerusalem the three synoptic gospels (Mark, Matthew and Luke) give accounts of discussions and arguments that Jesus has with the religious leaders. These exchanges testify to the growing hostility of the Jewish leaders to Jesus. Our passage reports a discussion with the Sadducees, a group of Jews who did not believe in the resurrection of the dead.
Ideas about the after-life developed only slowly during Old Testament times, and received a significant boost at the time of the persecution of the Jewish faith in the second century BC and the subsequent Maccabean revolt. Our first reading narrates the martyrdom of seven brothers at this time and their strong faith in the resurrection.
Jesus is quick to point out that the life of the resurrection is quite different from earthly life. Above all, death will not bring this risen life to an end. He goes on to refute the position of the Sadducees in relation to the resurrection. They had sought justification from Moses. Jesus in his turn refers to the vision of the burning bush which Moses saw on Mount Horeb (Exodus 3). The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob is God of the living, the God of the resurrection, the God who raises human beings from death. That God is indeed the God of the resurrection will be demonstrated in the events that will now unfold in Jerusalem.
Do I trust in the Christian hope that God’s care and power go beyond death?
Do I respect the life of every human being?
Let us pray for those who live without hope.
Let us pray for all our deceased brothers and sisters.
Rev Dr Adrian Graffy is a member of the Vatican Commission that takes a lead in Bible scholarship, interpretation and promotion in the Catholic Church.
Rev Dr Graffy said of his five-year appointment by Pope Francis in 2014: “It is an honour to be nominated by Pope Francis as a member of the Pontifical Biblical Commission. I feel humbled and very much look forward to being of service to His Holiness and the Church.”
He added: “A great deal has been achieved in England and Wales in recent years by many co-workers to advance Biblical scholarship and the provision of easy-to-use resources. I would like to take this opportunity to thank them and the Bishops’ Conference Department for Evangelisation and Catechesis for their efforts to promote understanding and love of the Bible, particularly through the publication of the teaching documents, The Gift of Scripture and the study guide to Verbum Domini, The Word of the Lord.”
Rev Dr Graffy received his doctorate in Sacred Scripture from the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome in 1983. He taught for over 20 years in St John’s Seminary in Wonersh, and is Chair of the National Scripture Working Group, which is an instrument of the Department for Evangelisation and Catechesis of the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales. Fr Graffy is a past director of Brentwood’s Commission for Evangelisation and Formation and parish priest of Christ the Eternal High Priest in Gidea Park, Essex. Among his publications are the Gospel of Mark and the Letter to the Romans (Alive Publishing).
Listen to BBC Essex interview with Fr Adrian Graffy