Last Sunday the reading at church was from Matthew 22:23-33 where the Sadducees presented Jesus with the argument of no resurrection through a story of seven brothers, who in turn, all married a dead brother's widow and Jesus's response to them. I was disappointed the priest failed to give any real explaination of the background and importance of this passage in his homily. There is so much meaning behind this passage. Here's my understanding of the background and key point of this passage.
At this time in Jewish history there were four primary Jewish sects. The Pharisees, who said there was a future life for the dead, a resurrection, and that the soul was immortal. That there was reward and punishment after death. The Sadducees, who argued there is neither resurrection of the dead nor a future life. The Essenes, who followed a strict observance of the purity laws of the Torah. They attributed to fate all that happened in life. The Zealots, who had a fierce loyalty to Jewish traditions and independence from Roman rule as well as opposition to any payment of taxes to Rome.
This passage involves two of these sects, the Pharisses and the Sadducees who were bitter enemies in belief. The chief priests at that time were mostly Sadduccees. In politics they were ready to collaborate with Rome. They were the wealthy and governing class. While the Sadduccees denied any life after death, the Pharisees said that any man who denied the resurrection of the dead was shut off from God. These two group's belief's about life after death were in total conflict.
Arguments, at this time, about matters of faith were commonly made in the form of a made up story with a point that was intended to confound the opponent. In this case, the Sadduccees used a story about seven brothers in arguing against life after death. They based this story on a Jewish custom called Levirate Marriage which held that if a man died childless, his brother was under an obligation to marry the widow and produce children for his brother. Any child born was legally considered the child of the dead brother. It is questionable whether this custom was really employed or not, but it served as the basis of the Sadduccees story to create a dilemma for those holding there was a life after death. They commonly used this story in arguments with the Pharaisees. So, they tried it on Jesus since he taught that there was a resurrection.
The story involves seven brothers. One brother died childless so the next brother was obligated to marry her. Each brother who married her died without producing a child with her until the last brother died without producing a child with her. Finally, the story goes, the woman died. Their question to Jesus was: "Of which of the seven will she be the wife in the resurrection? For they all had her."
They had confounded their opponents with this story and their question over and over. Jesus, however, demolished their position. Jesus answer was that anyone who reads Scripture must see that the question is irrelevant because heaven isn't a continuation of this life on earth. There will be totally new and different relationships in heaven. He said that in the resurrection people neither marry or are married, but they are as angels in heaven. So there would be no marriage in heaven involving the woman and the brothers.
The Sadduccees had argued there was no scripture to support a resurrection. Jesus, pointed out that Scripture demonstrates there is a life after death where God says to Moses: "I am the God of Abraham, The God of Isaac and the God of Jacob." He told the Sadducees: "God is not the God of dead men, but of those who live." The Sadduccees were silenced and defeated.
The crowds were amazed that he had destroyed the Sadducee's strong story argument and had cited Scripture to prove it. Not only that he did so with authority. As it says in the Bible the crowds "…were amazed at his teaching."
Throughout his ministry, Jesus was continually challenged by members of the different sects with stories, questions and staged events. The incident of the woman caught in adultery was staged in order to try to trap Him. Many other examples are described in Scripture: The question about paying taxes to Rome, what was the greatest commandment, who is our brother and what was the role of John the Baptist? Jesus easily was the master each time this happened. In fact, the only time Jesus "lost" an argument was one described in Mark Chapter seven. It involved not a Jew but a Gentile of Syrophoenician background who kept asking Him to cast out a demon from her daughter. He told the woman it wasn't right to take the children's bread "and throw it to the dogs." The woman wasn't put off by His response and said "Yes, Lord, but even the dogs under the table feed on the children's crumbs." Jesus relented saying "because of this answer" He would do it for her. So this simple Gentile woman by her persistent humble requests got her wish in the face of an original denial. There's a lesson for all of us regarding persistence in prayer.