Mark 12:18-27

Some Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to him and asked him a question, saying, “Teacher, Moses wrote for us that ‘if a man’s brother dies, leaving a wife but no child, the man shall marry the widow and raise up children for his brother.’ There were seven brothers; the first married and, when he died, left no children; and the second married her and died, leaving no children; and the third likewise; none of the seven left children. Last of all the woman herself died. In the resurrection whose wife will she be? For the seven had married her.”

Jesus said to them, “Is not this the reason you are wrong, that you know neither the scriptures nor the power of God? For when they rise from the dead, they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven. And as for the dead being raised, have you not read in the book of Moses, in the story about the bush, how God said to him, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is God not of the dead, but of the living; you are quite wrong.” Mark 12:18-27

The Sadducees were more than the priestly class of Jews in Jesus’ day, they were the “strict constitutionalists”. Just like modern day conservatives who constantly grouse about “strict constitutionalism” – as if James Madison and the others drafted it on unchanging tablets of stone – the Sadducees only accepted the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Old Testament, as holy scripture. They rejected all the “modern” scriptures, the historical books, the wisdom literature, and the prophets. And because of that, they didn’t believe in the idea of the resurrection of the dead, a concept you won’t find in the Pentateuch.

Which was very convenient for them. The privileged status the Sadducees enjoyed was actually born, not at Creation or even in their beloved book of Leviticus, but it stretched back to Zadok, the high priest at the time Solomon built the first Temple. Those were the glory days of Israel’s imagination – glorious because Israel enjoyed a brief period as an independent people, profiting mightily from its geographic blessings as center of trade. It wouldn’t last.

All of that ended with the fall of Israel to the Babylonians and the Babylonian Exile. After that dark period, the returning exiles sought to rebuild Jerusalem, including the construction of the Second Temple. The party of the Sadducees kicked into gear. They re-membered history to reassert what they claimed was their God-given role to control the business operations of the Temple. By the time Jesus came around, they were the richest members of Jewish society, their pockets filled with the profits of the Temple, their lavish homes a sign of their privileged status. All of which was made possible because of their embrace of their Roman occupiers.

Jesus – like all the prophets of old – was a threat to their privilege. Jesus had to go. So they set him up. They played the “whataboutism” word games that the powerful love to deploy which cloak their idolatrous grasp of power. They challenge him with their silly hypothetical of a woman whose husbands kept dying.

Jesus sees through their self-justifying charade. He doesn’t hesitate to challenge their hypocrisy. He tells them they are wrong. Why? Because they don’t care about the scriptures or the power of God. “Is not this the reason you are wrong, that you know neither the scriptures nor the power of God?”

All they care about is maintaining the myth of their own superiority and privileged status. If that meant that Jesus had to go, so be it.

I don’t want to be a Sadducee.

Let us pray: Dear Lord, we always are tempted to twist faith into a self-serving scheme to gain privileged status, in this life and the next. You are the Living God, may we find our life in you. Give us the humility to see when we are wrong and the courage to speak truth to power. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

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