We continue in our series on Mark. I read this passage and thought, Oh No! I’ve drawn the short straw again. What a passage to preach on. Are people married in heaven? What should my sermon be about? If in doubt keep reading the passage until something clicks.
This passage is part of a series of attempts to trap Jesus into saying something with which they could get rid of him. The religious leaders had challenged his authority in overturning the tables in the temple. They had sent some Pharisees and supporters of Herod to ask Jesus who they should pay taxes to. This time we heard about the Sadducees wading in. Who were the Sadducees? These were the posh priests. They owned property and as a result had tremendous power and privilege. They ask a rather stupid question. If a woman marries several times whose husband will she be in the resurrection? This question was a reflection of their self- interest in that it involved the inheritance of property. If a man died his brother was expected to marry the widow. Any children that were born would inherit the original man’s property. So you can see that it could become quite complicated if as the question proposes there were seven husbands. The other issue was a legal one. It was permissible for a man to have more than one wife. A woman could not have more than one husband. If the multiple weddings carried on onto heaven then the woman would have had eight husbands which would have been illegal. There was nothing wrong with the question as such. It was a good academic or philosophical question. What made it a silly question was that the Sadducees did not believe in the resurrection. Why on earth would they have asked such a question? Except to try to put Jesus on the back foot. Jesus realised this straight away and said, “You obviously don’t know the scriptures.” A polite way of saying, “You don’t know what you are talking about.”
I have to say that no matter how hard you look in the Old Testament you won’t find any reference to being married in heaven.
There are, however, some references to resurrection. It was this that Jesus was referring to. The Sadducees were denying these scriptures. They also denied the existence of angels, which are quite a feature in the first five books of the Bible. They also believed that after death people continued with the relationships they had in their earthly life. The Sadducees were not reading their Bible very well. Round one to Jesus.
Obviously the question that the Sadducees was asking doesn’t have the same relevance for us today because the laws of inheritance are not the same. Nevertheless it does throw up a similar question that is often asked today. Will I be with my wife, husband and children in heaven? Marriage today is, in most instances, quite different to what it was in Jesus’ time and indeed until relatively recently. People did not marry primarily for love. Marriage was more like a business arrangement. Either to preserve wealth or more importantly to ensure that property and name could be passed on to the next generation. I suppose a remnant of that is in the Royal family where the provision of an heir is quite important to the family and the nation. In certain quarters people may marry for commercial reasons but the majority of marriages among ordinary people take place because the couple love each other. There was another issue for the Sadducees. In their time a man could have more than one wife. A woman could not have more than one husband. If, as they believed relationships continued then the woman would be in breach of the law by having seven or eight husbands.
The Sadducees were the people of their day who took the Bible literally. They didn’t believe anything unless they could read it in the Bible. Yet like many people today who take the Bible literally they misunderstood what it is saying. They interpreted it to suit their own ends.
Perhaps, in the passage for today, we do need to take Jesus’ words literally. In other words we need to look very carefully at what Jesus is reported as saying. When people rise from the dead they neither marry nor are given in marriage. The word marry is a verb. People do not get married in heaven. This passage is often misinterpreted by some Christian theologians. They infer that marriage disappears when we die. This is nowhere explicitly stated. At the risk of repeating my self Jesus didn’t say, “In the resurrection they are not married.” Rather he said, “In the resurrection they don’t get married.
What does this mean for us? When I arrange a funeral People often say he or she is now with their wife, husband children or whoever. For pastoral reasons I cannot argue with them. Nor can I from a theological standpoint. In Luke’s account of this event he made the point that we are all God’s children. That it makes us all brothers and sisters in Christ. I think that, if we do go to heaven when we died, we are all equal. Perhaps we should remember that, in God’s sight, we are all equal here on earth.