Posted by: Melissa Bane Sevier | November 3, 2019

God of the living

One day a bunch of ancient skeptics posed a weird question to Jesus.

Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies, leaving a wife but no children, the man shall marry the widow and raise up children for his brother. Now there were seven brothers; the first married, and died childless; then the second and the third married her, and so in the same way all seven died childless. Finally the woman also died. In the resurrection, therefore, whose wife will the woman be? For the seven had married her.’

Jesus said to them, ‘Those who belong to this age marry and are given in marriage; but those who are considered worthy of a place in that age and in the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage. Indeed they cannot die any more, because they are like angels and are children of God, being children of the resurrection. And the fact that the dead are raised Moses himself showed, in the story about the bush, where he speaks of the Lord as the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. Now he is God not of the dead, but of the living; for to him all of them are alive.’ [from Luke 20]

Resurrection is an odd concept, certainly. How can modern, educated, scientific people buy into something that is so incredibly non-scientific, not rooted in anything that can be proven? Isn’t it the same as seeing Elvis at the Laundromat?

Those who asked the question were Sadducees, members of a religious party that was, like most moderns, skeptical about the idea of resurrection. They only believed in the Torah, the first few books of the Hebrew scriptures. If you look in Torah for references to resurrection, you won’t find any.

Their question to Jesus, though, was not a real question.

The marriage contracts the question describes were likely not practiced at the time of Jesus. But, in former times, if a man died, not leaving any children, the law said his brother would marry his widow to preserve the family name. The purpose was to have children. More accurately, the purpose was to have boys.

In the supposed question, a woman is married consecutively to seven brothers. “Whose wife will she be in the resurrection?” The Sadducees stand back and wait for Jesus to stumble over his answer, or to agree that the concept of resurrection makes no sense.

His answer isn’t really very satisfying, even to us. He doesn’t humor their hypothetical situation and their trip-you-up kind of question.

The resurrection, he says, will not be like anything we can currently grasp. It will be an entirely new way of ordering life.

And then he goes on to quote the Torah itself, the portion of the Bible the Sadducees did trust. 

God is not the God of the dead, but of the living.

Jesus seems to expose many flaws in the Sadducees’ question. In their view, apparently a woman’s only purpose in a marriage is to bear boys for her husband’s name. Does anyone care what this hypothetical woman thinks about having to marry all those husbands? Her only choices are to marry a brother-in-law or to live in poverty. She is considered as property—to whom will she belong in the resurrection?

It’s not like that, Jesus scoffs. It is nothing you can imagine. But, imagine this:  God is the God of the living.

God is the God of those who still breathe and laugh and cry. All of us live in relationships among family or friends.

Real life happens to real people. And so does real loss. In their carefully constructed little situation, the Sadducees don’t consider the gravity of their question—the grief, the loneliness, the reshaping of a life after the loss of a spouse.

Grief—great loss of any kind—indeed swallows us up like a dark tomb. What does it mean when we have a God of the living?  Are there ways in which the resurrection life is demonstrated to us—or that we can demonstrate it to the world? When we believe that God is the God of the living, we see people differently.

In The Weight of Glory, C.S. Lewis said:  There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal…  But it is immortals whom we joke w/, work w/, marry, snub and exploit—immortal horrors or everlasting splendor…  Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbor is the holiest object presented to your senses.

When we see each other as immortals, as holy, then our relationships change.

  • We may learn to live together as a nation divided by opinions and politics.
  • We decide to live together as a church divided.
  • We believe in a living wage and health care for everyone.
  • We treat the immigrant as a full human being.
  • We support teachers who show children how to read and how to think.
  • We support parents who love their children no matter what.
  • We become real grownups who work at their relationships.

What if we were to live as resurrection people, followers of the God of the living? We might be able to reach far into that future when there will be no more hunger, grief, injustice, or war, and we draw strength to keep going in our work to feed the hungry, comfort the grieving, bring peace and justice in our homes and our world.

We can be people who are constantly pulled forward by resurrection light into some new hope, some new action that leads us ever closer to the heart of the one who is the God of the living.

© Melissa Bane Sevier, 2019


  1. Thanks, I needed your words, interpretation, inspiration, and comprehensive hope. Look forward to seeing you Nov. 19th.

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