Day 192: Matthew 22:29-32

How wrong you are! It is because you don’t know the Scriptures or God’s power. For when the dead rise to life, they will be like the angels in heaven and will not marry.

Now, as for the dead rising to life: haven’t you ever read what God has told you? He said, “I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” He is the God of the living, not of the dead.”

One of the main religious disagreements in Jesus’ time was the resurrection of the dead.  The Pharisees believed in it and the Sadducees did not.  Jesus sided with the Pharisees on this one.  He believed in it.

In this incident, some Sadducees approach Jesus with a question to show some of the ridiculous complications that would result if everyone came back from the dead:

“Teacher,” they said, “Moses said that if a man who has no children dies, his brother must marry the widow so that they can have children who will be considered the dead man’s children.  Now, there were seven brothers who used to live here. The oldest got married and died without having children, so he left his widow to his brother.  The same thing happened to the second brother, to the third, and finally to all seven.  Last of all, the woman died.  Now, on the day when the dead rise to life, whose wife will she be? All of them had married her.” (Matthew 22:24-28).

It sounds like a typical Jewish theological discussion to me.  The Sadducees say that if people rose from the dead there would be chaos because everyone would be fighting about marital relationships. They come up with a ridiculous, “worst case,” hypothetical scenario. They imagine that it would all be a hot mess.  They envisioned God as an orderly, legalistic kind of guy who wouldn’t want to have anything to do with this kind of drama.

Jesus calls to their attention the principle that I wrote about on Day 174 that when you die, the rules change.  While wives are really important part of the first time around, marriage and sex and all that will be of no concern to people after they are resurrected.  He says that the resurrected people will be like the angels.  They will no longer care about the material world so there will be no drama about earthly things.  They will be spiritual beings with spiritual concerns and aspirations.

Then, Jesus uses his razor-sharp logic to justify his belief in the resurrection of the dead.  He says,Haven’t you ever read what God has told you? He said, “I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” He is the God of the living, not of the dead.”

The Reformation Bible Study provides a well-stated explanation:

Jesus quotes from the Pentateuch (Ex. 3:6), a portion of Scripture particularly valued by the Sadducees. That God “is” (not “was”) the God of the patriarchs proclaims the resurrection because “He is not God of the dead, but of the living.” The eternal God calls His saints to an eternal relationship with Himself. All this implies that the patriarchs continue to live in the presence of God and will be resurrected in the future.

I probably wouldn’t be convinced by this explanation and there’s no sign that any of the Sadducees were converted to his way of thinking.  But it gave them something to think about.  And while the Sadducees may not have been convinced, the spectators were definitely impressed: “When the crowds heard this, they were amazed at his teaching.”

When I think of the “resurrection of the dead” I automatically think of Jesus.  But when I think about it a little more, when I consider the sort of scenario described in this scripture where ordinary people come back to life, I think of that great Mexican celebration – The Day of the Dead (Dia de los Muertos).  Celebrated on November 1 every year, Day of the Dead is sometimes thought of by people of European descent as the Mexican equivalent of Halloween.  Observers of both holidays believe that the dead return to life on a single day of the year.  However that’s where the similarity ends.  While Halloween is fearful and gruesome, Day of the Dead is a time of joy and celebration.  On the Day of the Dead, the spirits of deceased love ones are resurrected for a single day of the year to party with their families and reminisce about the good times.

Day of the Dead is celebrated with eating, drinking, singing, dancing, and participating in other activities that the dead enjoyed in life.  Celebrants painstakingly create memorials to their loved ones.  These are similar to the displays created by Europeans for use at funeral services, except that Day of the Dead memorial include things like the dearly departed’s favorite foods.  Or maybe a bottle of their favorite tequila.  It’s a time for the living to reflect on the lives of the dead and share warm memories.  It’s a time to teach the children about their ancestors and help them overcome their fear of death.

One of the most familiar symbols of Day of the Dead is the beautifully decorated skeletons which appear everywhere during the holiday. They skeletons are portrayed as enjoying life, often in fancy clothes and entertaining poses.  Another symbol is the brightly-colored, elaborately embellished skulls crafted out of sugar or depicted in other kinds of arts and crafts.  I appreciate the fact that they don’t portray the dead as being exactly like the living.  The fact that they are portrayed as skeletons underscores that the dead are still living even though they have left their bodies behind.  It supports Jesus’ assertion in this scripture that people are transformed by death into a different state of being.  There is a difference between the resurrected person and the living person.

Like Halloween, Day of the Dead combines traditional indigenous beliefs with Christian religious observances.  While Halloween reflects the European pagan belief that the resurrection of the dead is evil and threatening, Day of the Dead is based on the ancient belief of the people of Mexico that death is the gateway to another phase of life.  With Halloween, the belief is that death makes people terrifying and murderous, while Day of the Dead asserts that the dead are friendly and happy.

Which celebration do you think Jesus would have liked better?  Halloween or Day of the Dead?  Which reflects a healthier attitude about life’s journey?  I think the answer is pretty obvious.  I, for one, may have to switch holidays.

What does this scripture say to you?

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