Weekly Bible Reflection
Luke: Signs of the Kingdom
Third Sunday before Advent
Text: Luke 20.27-38: "Using scripture against scripture."
Begin by using the Bible Study method as outlined
Have you been faced with someone asking absurd questions about God and Christianity, quoting bits of scripture out of context? How did you respond? Were you able to do so positively?
A Window on the Text
The Sadducees were a worldly, privileged, wealthy group of conservative lay people who had no difficulty in cooperating with the Roman rulers. They did not believe in any form of resurrection or afterlife, but were more concerned to maintain their privileged position in their earthly one.
Their sarcastic and mocking question to Jesus about marriage customs and the afterlife raises some pertinent issues about relationships – both between individuals and between humankind and God. The ridiculous “seven brides for seven brothers” scenario – with the woman being passed from one husband to the next in the hope of producing a son – shows little concern for women as human beings. The old custom of Levirate marriage (see Deuteronomy 25:5-10 and Genesis 38:8) existed to preserve (the man’s) inheritance rights, property, and the family name. The ultimate shame for a woman in first century Palestinian culture was barrenness (it never seemed to be the husband’s fault), and there is no acknowledgement of this unhappy woman having feelings of her own in the story as outlined by the Sadducees.
Jesus’ reply reminds them, and us, that resurrected life in Christ - however we understand it - is about sharing in the fullness of life in the family of God. Death may end our physical existence, but not our relationship with our Father. As ever, Jesus speaks of a Kingdom that subverts the dominant social order – where there will be no need for marriage laws protecting property and inheritance rights. He particularly rejects the attitude that treats a woman merely as a commodity, used to perpetuate the structures that the Sadducees value above all else. In God’s Kingdom will be a new relationship between men and women that does not include patriarchal domination and dependence. (US theologian Water Wink calls it ‘God’s domination-free order’.
Not content with merely parrying a pointless question, Jesus turns their reference to Moses’ words back on the Sadducees. He reminds them that resurrection is indeed implied in the scriptures, quoting some other words of Moses – from the story of the burning bush in Exodus 3:6, where the Lord identifies himself as the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob long after they have all died. That promise to the patriarchs to be their God, then and for ever, requires a relationship with them to be maintained even after their earthly end.
Responding as a community
- What do you understand by resurrection? How do we balance our thoughts of a future heavenly existence with the need to for all people to enjoy fullness of life before death?
- How can we guard against taking ‘proof texts’ out of context and making them into hard and fast rules for all time? Can we learn to do what Jesus did, and use scripture against scripture to answer those who only use the bible to support their own views and their position in society?
Share the reading of the following meditation, then leave space and silence for personal reflection.
Broken Silence, by Nicola Slee
O women whose voices have never been heard:
we repent of our deafness,
we confess our stubborn hearts and closed minds.
O women whose words have been consigned to silence:
we grieve for the wisdom which has been lost.
O women whose wisdom has not been heeded:
we desire that our time will be different and
we commit ourselves now to listen.
We will turn again to search out the scriptures,
we will look for the clues of your lives in the margins of history’s pages.
We will seek out your words in secret places.
We will dig for your treasure hidden deep in the dark.
For we know our need of your wisdom.
We yearn for the restoration of what has been lost.
Our time is hungry for your forgotten stories,
for the ancient art of women’s wisdom
which will heal our hurt and may yet save our world.
Finish by saying this prayer together:
O God, the power of the powerless,
(All taken from “Celebrating Women” Ed. Hannah Ward, Jennifer Wild and Janet Morley.)
you have chosen as your witnesses
those whose voice is not heard.
Grant that, as women first announced the resurrection
though they were not believed,
we too may have courage
to persist in proclaiming your word,
in the power of Jesus Christ. Amen.
- Resurrection as understood in this era was never a static doctrine, but a living hope for the transformation of the world. The Sadducees had a vested interest in denying any other world except the present one, which they controlled. They had little interest in the moral chaos that their story describes – only the maintenance of their own socio-economic status. (From Binding the Strong Man, by Ched Myers.)
- The custom of Levirate marriage was widespread in the Near East according to references in ancient texts to the Assyrians, Hittites and Canaanites. It was meant as a device to prevent a man’s name and family dying out by taking on the widow and raising children to the deceased brother. However not many specific examples are actually recorded, and it is believed that by New Testament times the practice had fallen into disuse. However similar customs do still persist in some rural African communities.