Mosaic law contained rules about marriage which we consider unusual today. If a man died childless, his brother had to marry his widow. The intent behind this law was to protect the widow from poverty and disgrace as she would have no means of support. In a modern society, where women hold jobs and own property equally with men, this is an outdated and rarely practiced idea.
The Sadducees were a Jewish sect who did not believe in the resurrection as Jesus taught. Fearing his influence on the people, they tried to trip him up to diminish public opinion of him. They thought the following scenario would do the trick.
A man with six brothers died childless. Per the law, his brother married his wife. The second brother also died childless, and she married the third brother, and so on until eventually she had married all seven brothers. Who, the Sadducees asked, would be her husband in the resurrection?
Jesus told them they were asking the wrong questions, “For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven.”
That must have been a showstopper. Until very recently most people did not marry for love, but there have been rules about fidelity and ownership for a long time. The concept of women who did not need to rely on men was almost unthinkable. Jesus was saying, “I know the rules, but the current social structures are not the equality God ultimately has in mind for you.” While not exactly a ringing endorsement of the Equal Rights Amendment, it sent the message that once the world was made anew, women would be independent.
Today in the western world, the equality shared legally (if not practically) by men and women makes love-based marriage the norm. Viewing others as equals – as fully human beings – makes other types of love possible as well. Empathy requires us to identify with another person, and if we don’t think of them as equal, that empathy is stunted. The church has traditionally promoted the values of faith, hope, and love as described in 1 Corinthians, but the Greek word (agape) for the type of sacrificial “love” intended can just as legitimately be translated as “charity.” English doesn’t really have an equivalent word. Maybe that’s why we struggle with understanding current social structures as anything other than vertical, with the “haves” obliged to show charity to the “have nots.” When we realize we are no different, giving and receiving charity are no longer sources of obligation or shame, but acts of sharing between children of God as any loving family might perform.
Empathy and equality release us from the slavery of convention into the freedom of love.
Comfort: God loves you equally to kings and paupers, friends and enemies.
Challenge: What groups of people do you have trouble empathizing with? Make an effort to get to know them.
Prayer: The Lord is good to all, and his compassion is over all that he has made. (Psalm 145:9)
Discussion: What prejudices do you struggle with?
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