The following sermon was preached by Niveen Sarras, LSTC student, in Augustana Chapel at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago on Monday, November 8, 2010.
The trouble makers, the Sadducees, came to question Jesus about the resurrection. It is not clear in the text if the Sadducees think that Jesus believes in the resurrection as the Pharisees do, but we assume that they assume that he does. Sadducees in Luke are only mentioned here. This group of The Jewish sect took its name from Zadok, David’s priest. It is Zadok whose descendants became the authorized high –priestly line in the post-exilic period (Ezek 40:46). They were conservative in their belief, rejecting the existence of angels as well as the resurrection of the dead.
They said, Moses wrote for us, notice the “for us”, because the Sadducees believed only in the Pentateuch unlike the Pharisees. They point to the mosaic provision (Deut 25:5-10) of levirate marriage, designed in the first instance to provide a son to perpetuate the same name of a man who has died before any sons have been born to him. The levirate marriage exhibits a profoundly patriarchal understanding of marriage, in which a woman was “taken” by the man and was essential to his need for progeny. The details of the levirate law in practice are well demonstrated by the mishnah, the Jewish interpretation of the scripture.
The woman that they are addressing married seven men because she had to follow the levirate marriage. The main issue of this story is the question: “At the Resurrection, whose wife will the women be?” (20:27-40). You have probably heard many sermons about resurrection; therefore, that will not be my main focus in this sermon. Rather, my concern is the woman who had married the seven men.
According to Deut 25, the levirate marriage concerns having a son for the man who did not have a son. In this case, the son will continue the line of his father and protect his mother as well. The widow, in that time, had no way to support herself, but to engage in a sexual relationship which the society legalized in order to continue the line of the sonless man. In fact, this system worked for the sake of men much more than women. The woman, who married the seven brothers, was pushed by the law and by the society to marry those seven men. In fact, those seven men tried to use her to produce children but they failed. The society and the legislators of the book of Deuteronomy did not ask her or ask the women if they would accept this way of life. The society created an environment to push women to seek the levirate marriage, and the women did not consider this practice as an unjust one. Take for example: Tamar the wife of Er, the son of Judah the son of Jacob. When her husband Er died she married his younger brother, when he died as well she could not get married to his youngest brother because he was too young for marriage, so she started to find a way to marry his father Judah in Gen 38. The society was never just for women; on the contrary, the society pushed them to believe that their security depends on men; their protection is taken from men; their identify is shaped by men.
Today women are still struggling in our societies, and wondering how they are going to protect themselves. In the U.S. it is probably more about how a woman is going to support herself financially. All societies expect women to be in relationship with men. Other choices are not favored by the society. Women are still not entirely free to talk about their sexual orientation and are often not encouraged to pursue advanced studies. Nowadays, teenage girls are proud of themselves and proud of their identity if they are in relationship with boys; this means that both in their and their girlfriends’ point of view are mature and desired by men. In addition to the media and Walt Disney stories like snow white and Cinderella, which shape girls’ worldview. This is a miserable condition that we find ourselves in, that women’s identity is taken from men and what our friends and society expect from us.
The women who got married to seven men died, and the question of the Sadducees is “At the Resurrection, whose wife will the women be?” This question implies that this practice on earth continued in haven. But Jesus, who considers women equal to men, affirms that the levirate marriage will not exist in heaven. In other words, the concern to establish a line for the sonless man will not be an issue there. Using women as machines to produce children is no longer legitimate. The Sadducees’ concern is not about women in the afterlife but rather about how they may discredit Jesus’ belief in the resurrection. Women were considered to be the property of their husbands; but Jesus perceives women as full persons here and hereafter, by no means the possession of another. He replies that new relationships in heaven will no longer emphasize physical sexuality, marriage or death. However, Jesus did not condemn the levirate marriage, but rather points out its insignificance after death. But Jesus affirms that women and men will be equal to angels and are children of God. Jesus quotes 2 Baruch 51:10, “they shall be made like unto the angels, and be made equal to the stars, and they shall be changed into every form they desire.”
I grew up in a society where women must find husbands to protect themselves, and women must depend on men, and keep having children till they give birth to a son. Whatever I achieve in my studies is not enough as long as I am not married. In addition, if a woman turns thirty and is not married, the society calls her “spinster,” which becomes her title. Men are not given this tile. This title “spinster” in my society has a negative meaning. Therefore, so many women marry regardless of whom a man is in order to avoid this title. I will turn thirty next month, and I expect to have this negative title.
In America, women have more freedom than in the Middle East; however, they are pushed hard to be in relationship. My male American friend keeps complaining that am focusing on my studies and not interested in dating men. He said I have to be in relationship with a man otherwise I will be sick. Well, I cannot be in relationship with a man in order to fulfill the expectation of the society. To be who you want, who you are, is difficult in all societies. As women, our identity should be taken from God and not from men or our society in general. Who said that we have to, we must, and should get married? And who said that women cannot be complete by themselves? Furthermore, the Lutherans do not consider marriage to be a sacrament; it is not necessary for our salvation. I am not arguing against marriage or being in a relationship, but I am arguing against making marriage and male/female relationships the purpose of our lives. I am also arguing against ignoring the freedom that God gives to us through Jesus, and against the attitude of the Sadducees, who are concerned about fulfilling the traditions at the expense of women. Finally, we cannot ignore the equal relationship that Jesus gives to us.
Let us continue with the text. Jesus proves his belief in the resurrection by citing from the same Torah that the Sadducees believe. He cited the story of the bush in Ex 3 to prove that God is God of the living not dead. Jesus confirms that men and women are not only equal to each other, but both are alive. In Christ, we do next experience death, but transition from one place to a place of greater one.
So, if women and men are equal in heaven, why are they not equal on earth? Jesus clearly understands that women are equal to men. That means as a man is independent women should be independent and enjoy the new identity that God gives to human beings. Women have a right to protect themselves from any kind of abusive relationship, and free themselves from any social role that stands against God’s freedom. Therefore, the society should not shape our identity and push us into unhealthy relationships; on the country, we should change the society to enjoy the new identity which is given to us as free gift in Jesus Christ.