The God of the Living
Matthew 22:23-33 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
23 The same day some Sadducees came to him, saying there is no resurrection;[a] and they asked him a question, saying, 24 “Teacher, Moses said, ‘If a man dies childless, his brother shall marry the widow, and raise up children for his brother.’ 25 Now there were seven brothers among us; the first married, and died childless, leaving the widow to his brother. 26 The second did the same, so also the third, down to the seventh. 27 Last of all, the woman herself died. 28 In the resurrection, then, whose wife of the seven will she be? For all of them had married her.” 29 Jesus answered them, “You are wrong, because you know neither the scriptures nor the power of God. 30 For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels[b] in heaven. 31 And as for the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was said to you by God, 32 ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is God not of the dead, but of the living.” 33 And when the crowd heard it, they were astounded at his teaching.
Have you ever heard people being described as so heavenly focused until they were no earthly good? I sure have! There have always been strong contingencies of believers who assert that Christianity is concerned more about the afterlife of adherents than the lives they lead on earth. After all, for many, eternal life is the compelling reason they became and remain Christian.
Maybe the Sadducees in today’s text, being people who did not actually believe in the resurrection, had formed their version of a “got’cha” question designed to trick Jesus into publically stating that his vision and voice were empty of earthly hope as they were aimed at the afterlife with no meaningful implications for day-to-day earthly interactions, policy making, and governance. Perhaps they hoped no critique of the Moses-inspired yet sexist tradition of men passing on their wives to their brothers as they would houses and land would be found in the vision of Jesus.
In redirecting the strategic questioning of the Sadducees, Jesus gave his listeners, and also his readers, a lesson for the ages. At the resurrection, traditional yet demeaning sexist and hierarchical practices will be checked at the door as human bodies will be transformed into angelic beings with no systems of angel-over-angel privilege or dominance. As he continued, Jesus astonished his crowd by indicating that God is not the God of the dead but of the living.
This sermonic point from Jesus serves as a declaration of hope, one that indicates that God’s investments in human affairs are not confined to the past and are not only heavenly focused, but are real and available to those of us who continue to live in the here and now.
While we rejoice over the promises of God that point to life with Jesus in the heavenly realm, we must never allow ourselves to become so heavenly engaged until we forget our earthly responsibilities to love one another, and live as God’s agents of holy change who advocate and agitate for the establishment of the beloved community right here and right now. The God of the living wants all people to flourish through social and economic systems sparked by justice, animated by peace, and transformed by equity right here and right now, in the land of the living, as they do in heaven. Amen
The Rev. Dr. Jack Sullivan, Jr. is the Executive Director of the Ohio Council of Churches. He was awarded the 2020 Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Social Justice Award by the State of Ohio MLK Holiday Commission. Jack can be reached at JSullivan@ohcouncilchs.org.
The full Lenten Devotional Booklet can be downloaded by clicking HERE.