Entrapment 4.0 – 9th Week in ordinary time-Wednesday – Mark 12:18-27
By now Jesus had just about ticked off most of the Jewish groups in the temple. He has effectively become enemy number one and after three failed attempts to trap Him, a fourth attempt is made. The big guns are brought out to tackle him and the Sadducees were a force to reckon with.
Politically, the Sadducees were aligned with Roman rule in a ‘while they reign, let us gain’ alliance. In doing so, their position as authorities in the Jewish ruling council (the Sanhedrin), were secure. They formed the upper social and economic echelon of Judean society.
But it is their rejection of the oral law that saw them caught up in constant inter-Jewish disputes between the Pharisees, who unlike them, accepted the belief in the resurrection, the immortality of the soul and the existence of angels. For the Sadducees, the ‘go to book’ was the Torah or as we know, the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Bible. They did not accept the historical books or the prophets. The Sadducees based their rejection of the resurrection on the silence of the Pentateuch which they strictly followed.
So when entrapment in all its forms fails, the Sadducees were sent in with a different strategy. Jesus is not asked a political question that could land Him in trouble, if answered wrongly. This time it’s a religious doctrinal question entwined in a hypothetical situation with a clear attempt to reduce the doctrine of the resurrection to absurdity.
Any question on the resurrection would have the ears of the Pharisee puckered up, to say nothing of the consequences of the hold Jesus had on the people, should he answer wrongly. This question was a hot potato that few would want to touch, but was now tossed into Jesus’ lap.
To add to the touchy issue of the resurrection, the Sadducees added a religious obligation that stemmed from Deuteronomy 25:5-10; the Levirate marriage. The Levirate laws’ primary aim was to hold the possession of land within the family. In short, if a man died without an heir, then his widow was to marry her husband’s brother or kinsman, and thus the land was retained within the family.
Jesus was certainly no fool. He saw how complex the issues thrown to Him were. The authority quoted by the Sadducees to back their doctrinal claim was Moses himself. For them, Moses was the author of the Torah and the one from whose hand the Law of God came. Jesus attacks both, their failure to understand the Law of Moses, and their foolishness in limiting the power of God. This must have come as quite a slap in the face of those who claimed to be authorities on both.
The mistake that the Sadducees make is to limit the power of God (in this case the resurrection) to their known categories of understanding. We too do the same. In reality, God is beyond all human categories and hence HE IS GOD. For the Sadducees, resurrection was a continuation of human life; hence the question, ‘whose wife shall she be at the resurrection?’
Jesus knew that the Sadducees would not take any explanation for an answer if the answer was not from the Torah; the books they accepted. So Jesus does precisely that. His reply comes from Moses in the Torah. God, in speaking to Moses in the incident of the burning bush, refers to Himself as the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
If the resurrection was a myth, as the Sadducees claimed, then God would have referred to His relationship to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the past tense. But God does not say, ‘I was the God of Abraham’, but ‘I am’ thus establishing that Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were alive and resurrected. In doing this, He demolished the hoax that the Sadducees had made the resurrection to be.
There should have been a deafening applause to the answer of Jesus; most certainly from the Pharisees; after all, the traditional rivals of the Pharisees were demolished with the arguments of Jesus. Yet if I may safely assume, hatred filled both sides of the aisle with a deeper resolve to eliminate Jesus. The plot thickens.
Fr Warner D’Souza