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Gospel reflection for 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C

Sister Veronica Lawson RSM (Ballarat East) offers a reflection on the Gospel for the 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C (Luke 20:27-38).

Mark’s gospel is the source of Luke’s story about the Sadducees and their challenge to Jesus. Sadducees feature nowhere else in Luke’s gospel. They took their name and claimed descent from Zaddok who was high priest in the time of King David. They disappeared from history when the Romans destroyed the Jerusalem Temple (70 C.E.), about twenty years before Luke wrote his gospel. At the time of Jesus, they aligned themselves with the occupying forces and represented the interests of the priests and the Temple. According to the first century Jewish historian, Josephus, they represented nobility, power and wealth. Their religious views and understandings of the Law differed markedly from those of the Pharisees. Pharisees believed in the resurrection of the dead, for instance, while the Sadducees didn’t. Pharisees accepted oral interpretation of the Law while the Sadducees accepted only the written word.

While we have none of their own writings, only the opinions of their critics (in Josephus, the New Testament, and the Talmud), it seems fair to say that the Sadducees were religious literalists and conservatives. Their literalist attitude certainly seems to come through in today’s gospel story. They are trying to discount the notion of resurrection and catch Jesus out in a belief that he shares with the Pharisees. Luke, of course, is more interested the literalists of his own communities than in the historical party of the Sadducees. Their counterparts are still around.

Jesus’ response to the Sadducees’ question shifts the focus away from death to life. The fact that the biblical tradition (‘Moses’) speaks of God as the God of the ancestors means that their ancestors in faith are alive. They are children of the resurrection as is the woman in question and her seven husbands. The scenario outlined by the Sadducees may explain the situation of the five times married Samaritan woman of John’s gospel: it may be that five successive husbands who had died were all brothers required by the Law of Levirate marriage to provide offspring for their brother’s childless widow. The more insights we gain into the cultural context of the gospels, the less likely we are to assume that we know exactly what any particular story means. Gospel reading calls for humility and serious attention to history as well as openness to the Spirit.