In the New Testament, we read of Jesus’s Resurrection; and then we read that approximately 50 days later there came a powerful in-dwelling of the Holy Spirit in Jesus’s disciples on a day known as Pentecost.
Pentecost is the beginning of a nearly half-year season during which the Church, imbued with the Holy Spirit, delivers its “ordinary” (orders) that are its version of Jesus’s rule book for an abundant life of righteous living.
On this 22nd Sunday after Pentecost, tracing the significance of our adherence to the “orders,” or rules, straight back to the Savior’s Resurrection after his brutal Passion and Crucifixion, we do well to examine the virtually identical accounts the synoptic Gospels — Matthew, Mark, and Luke — — exploring the narratives and resolving any questions about the nature of the after-life.
Near the end of Luke 20, Matthew 22 and Mark 12, we find that members of a religious party, the Sadducees, did not believe in afterlife. One day in the Temple in Jerusalem, to trick Jesus into some heresy or otherwise, they presented this hypothetical situation to him:
There were seven brothers; the first married and died childless. Then the second and third married the same widow in succession, hoping to father for her one or more children to inherit wherewithal of the same tribe. But each brother died in succession and childless. After all the brothers had died, the widow also died childless.
The Sadducees then asked Jesus, “In the resurrection, therefore, whose wife will the woman be … for all seven had married her.”
Jesus replied, in a response pattern that should be familiar to close readers of the New Testament:
Jesus questioned, and even debunks, the premises of the Sadducees, who wrongly consider it appropriate to analyze the heavenly with earthly logic.
The form of response that the Sadducees wanted Jesus to follow ignored the fact that it is Jesus’s prerogative — as “God in man made manifest” — to set the agenda and ask questions, not theirs.
Jesus clearly was not interested in the Sadducees’ highly technical concern about adherence to the Mosaic Law, which in this case was about obligations of a surviving brother. Jesus considered it to be relatively trivial earthly matters that could be regulated by righteous judges on earth.
What Jesus wants us to focus on are heavenly matters, such as:
• Loving one another universally and unconditionally and fulfilling the essential obligations of the righteous despite any Mosaic Law to the contrary, feeding the hungry, quenching the thirsty, welcoming strangers, covering the naked and/or homeless, comforting and perhaps healing the sick and befriending.
• Treating one another like caring sisters and brothers, sibling children of the same God and Father.
• Modeling oneself in strong and abiding faith like Abraham, Sarah, and Hagar; like Isaac and Rebecca; and like Jacob, Leah and Rachel.
Jesus is worthy; and we should be as well.
— The Rev. Dr. Wesley S. Williams Jr., K.St.J., is Priest Scholar and Chaplain at Washington National Cathedral and previously was Bishop’s Dean and Sub-Dean and Priest in Charge in congregations in the Episcopal Diocese of the Virgin Islands (U.S. and U.K.).