The Question about the Resurrection
Some Sadducees, those who say there is no resurrection, came to him and asked him a question, ‘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.’
In the 13th season of the animated cartoon television series The Simpsons, Homer Simpson titular character and lovable buffoon, asks his friendly Christian neighbour, Ned Flanders, a theological question that has been bothering him:
“Could Jesus microwave a burrito so hot that he himself could not eat it?”
To which Ned replies:
“Well sure of course, he could, but then again… wow as melon scratchers go that’s a honey doodle.”
The problem as Ned sees it is the question about the omnipotence of God, that is a dilemma can an all-powerful God create something more powerful than God? The answer to Homer’s question creates a conflict where the answer is yes and no, yes Jesus is so powerful he could microwave a burrito so hot he couldn’t eat it, but no Jesus is so powerful surely, he could eat the burrito. Ned gets stuck in this loop with no clear answer.
This type of question one which is absurd hypothetical, essentially silly focusing on some random scenario is the exact type of question which the Sadducees ask Jesus in Luke’s gospel. Who are the Sadducees? They were soicio-relgious sect within Judaism who emphasized the importance of the temple, with its rites and services. The Sadducees were often in conflict with the Pharisees because while the Pharisees recognized the authority of oral teachings, commentary on the Torah along with the writings of the prophets and psalms as applicable to Jewish Life, the Sadducees only recognized the authority of the written Torah the first 5 books of what we call the Old Testament. It is why when The Sadducees also differed from the Pharisees in a key belief which is relevant to this story from Luke, they did not believe in resurrection. The Sadducees come to Jesus who was preaching about resurrection, citing Moses – or the Torah aka the first 5 books of Moses – and ask him the Burrito question to undermine his credibility:
“Rabbi, 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.”
Here is the problem, Deuteronomy 25 says “when brothers reside together, and one of them dies and has no son, the wife of the deceased shall not be married outside the family to a stranger. Her husband’s brother shall go in to her, taking her in marriage, and performing the duty of a husband’s brother to her, and the firstborn whom she bears shall succeed to the name of the deceased brother, so that his name may not be blotted out of Israel.” The Sadducees present this absurd hypothetical where a woman is married seven times in this life, well what happens in the resurrection who is her husband, the first all of them? If this question seems absurd, it is, but by citing Mosaic Law the Sadducees are insinuating that the question is legitimate and furthermore Jesus, who is gaining popularity for his wisdom and teachings, should know the answer. They are hoping to force Jesus to give and answer that contradicts Mosaic Law or to deny there is resurrection.
Ironically, the Sadducees who don’t believe in a resurrection with their question assume that of there is a resurrection that it is simply and extension of the same life as they and we know it. That in the resurrection will be married and who we are married to is important in life as in the after life. Their inability to imagine a life beyond the concerns of this one, a life of who will you be married to or a life beyond microwaved burritos is what Jesus hints at in his answer. Jesus responds by saying in the resurrection there is no marriage, whatever it is, it is a life that surpasses that which binds us on earth. It interests are not the same as current interests. Jesu continues and here is where he demonstrates why he has earned the reputation as a wise rabbi, he throws Moses back at the Sadducees, referring to the story of the burning bush where God is identified as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Jesus makes the case that if God is the God of the living, the God of their ancestors, then their ancestors are alive in God’s presence.
The Sadducees in this story try to use the law of Moses to trap Jesus and create tricky theologian situations and bring down their opponents. Jesus uses the law to point towards life, what is good what is just, to point to a life beyond the limits of our imagination. There are times when it is an interesting theological exercise to wonder about these kind of burrito questions, those questions like wine or grape juice, but scripture and the law should always lead us to life and the living God. When you hear some say “the bible says…” or offers some moral teaching based on what the “bible says” ask yourself does it lead to life, does it preach a life of abundance and love, does it lead people towards freedom and joy in the presence of God? Scripture and its interpretation should enrich our daily life.
I do not know what the resurrection looks like for us, whether we will have corporeal bodies, spirt bodies some other type of being. I do know that what won’t be resurrected are the anger, the arguments and petty differences of our time. Resurrection leaves behind death, it does not worry about who you will be married to, or who you will date. Resurrection, as one commentator notes, “rejoices that the dead can die no more.”
“Could Jesus microwave a burrito so hot that he himself could not eat it?”
My proper doctrinal answer is if Jesus is that Christianity teaches that Jesus is fully God and fully human, therefore Jesus can microwave a burrito that is so hot that Jesus the human cannot eat it but Jesus the Christ can eat it, thus the answer is yes and no. What ought to be more interested in is if Jesus loves everyone (spoiler yes he does), more interested in how Jesus leads us to live in just ways, more interested in theological questions that touch persons, touch actual bodies and their daily concerns. I am more interested in whether we can imagine a life beyond the absurd hypothetical, because we do not live in the hypothetical, but the now. The now where Jesus continually points us towards the living God who breaks into our now so we might experience of the hope the resurrection, the promise that death is not the end of our lives – death is not the end of our lives. May we live knowing that death is not defeat, that there is a life beyond the limits of our imaginations, rejoicing in our saviour who microwaved a burrito so hot he could and could not eat it. Amen.