The Real Thing
In the Gospel Reading, the Sadducees come to show Jesus up. Here is their case: If there were a resurrection and a life with God in heaven, then what a mess there would be for people who had married more than once!
The problem with the Sadducees is that they can’t imagine anything bigger or better than the small world they know. In that world, a man needs a wife and gets a wife and certainly hopes not to share her with anybody. But, they think, if there were a resurrection of the dead, then any man whose wife outlived him and remarried would find that in heaven his wife had another husband in addition to him. Since that is plainly an intolerable thought, there can’t be any such thing as heaven.
When you see their view this way, it seem so childish. They are like a child who reacts with dismay when he is told that he won’t be sucking his thumb when he grows up.
But, of course, we have our own version of this sort of Sadducee position; and Jesus’ answer to the Sadducees prompts it. People aren’t married in heaven, Jesus tells them; they are like the angels of God, who also don’t marry. What?!! some people say. Is there no sex in heaven? Then how could it be heaven? Obviously, our contemporary Sadducees think, there can’t be any such thing as heaven since the best things in life couldn’t happen there!
These contemporary Sadducees must pity the angels. The angels never had bodies. So, they were never able to have what these people think of as the best things in life—sex or even marriage.
When it is spelled out in this way, the childishness of this contemporary Sadducee-like position is clear. It supposes that the little goods of embodied creatures are as good as things ever get. But God created the angels much bigger than human beings. They unite with each other not in the limited way that bodies can unite but with their whole selves with each other, in an intimate and joyful way, through their union with the mind of God.
By comparison with the power of that union, sex, even sex in happy marriage, is small. And that is why human beings don’t marry, or have sex, in heaven. In heaven, they finally have the real thing.
Eleonore Stump is Professor of Philosophy, Saint Louis University
**From Saint Louis University