Have you ever gotten trapped by a trick question? You know the kind where someone asks, "Have you stopped beating your wife yet?" or "Have you stopped nagging your husband?" or maybe, "Are you a rich Democrat or a poor Republican?" In a way they’re funny questions, but the real point of them isn’t to elicit information, it’s to trap you into an impossible answer.

Have you ever gotten trapped by a trick question? You know the kind where someone asks, "Have you stopped beating your wife yet?" or "Have you stopped nagging your husband?" or maybe, "Are you a rich Democrat or a poor Republican?" In a way they’re funny questions, but the real point of them isn’t to elicit information, it’s to trap you into an impossible answer.


That’s just the thing that happened with Jesus when he was approached by a group of religious people while he was on his way to Jerusalem. It was a group of Sadducees, whom Luke tells us were scholars who didn’t believe in the resurrection. They have the perfect question for Jesus, who has been heard to talk about resurrection from the dead. It had to do with the rule of what’s called Levirate marriage, which required the brother of a man who died without an heir to marry the now widowed woman. It was a part of the social safety net of the day for the woman, and a way of continuing the deceased man’s name for his family. It may not seem ideal to us, but it was a functional way for a family to extend its care to someone vulnerable.


The Sadducees, who were strict adherents to the Torah, the first 5 books of the Hebrew Bible, thought they had come up with the perfect question. You can almost see them rubbing their hands together, maybe even a couple of them snickering in the background, as their appointed leader sets the snare. And, there’s nothing like pumping someone up with a respectful title before bursting the balloon. "Teacher," noting a sign of great admiration, "Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies, leaving a wife but no children, the man shall marry the widow and raise up children for his brother. Now there were seven brothers; the first married, and died childless; then the second and the third married her, and so in the same way all seven died childless. Finally the woman also died. In the resurrection, therefore, whose wife will the woman be? For the seven had married her."


Can’t you just see them holding their breath and waiting for that prized "gotcha" moment? It was such a good question because any answer was going to sound ridiculous and show just how ludicrous this whole notion of resurrection was since God would certainly not have a woman married to 7 men for all of eternity.


But then, somehow, the tables got turned on them. Jesus quoted a story that was central to their belief right from the Torah. When God spoke through the burning bush to Moses, the introduction came as the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, ancestors long dead, yet very much alive to God. What more promising word to hear, and for it to come from the text that was the most sacred to the Sadducees. Those ancestors no longer living as far as Moses was concerned, no longer living to the people of Jesus’ generation, no longer living to us now, were and are alive to God in that day and in our day, too. The Sadducees must have been left dumbfounded and stammering. They hadn’t really wanted information, but they got a word of promise about the resurrection from the text they held closest to their hearts.


What more promising word to us still. The people we have loved, those who are dear to us, all those who have gone before us and are now dead are alive to God, our Creator, as children of God.


Many of us celebrated Halloween this past week, an evening when those of us who are young enough dress up in scary costumes and go Trick or Treating under the supervision of responsible adults. Some, after getting old enough to dispense with formalities and decorum, aren’t afraid to dress up in costumes and enjoy a party with friends again. Halloween is actually a conjunction of the words All Hallows’ Eve or Evening. Those who are hallowed are the saints, the people who have died whom we remember with love. All Hallows’ Eve is partly a time to remember and experience some of the scary things about death. If you’ve ever wondered why ghosts and skeletons are such popular characters for Halloween, there’s your answer. And, it comes on the Eve of All Hallows’ Day or All Saints’ Day, the day we remember in faith all those saints who have died in the past year. It is a hallowed or holy time. The comfort I take in those two days is knowing no matter how much we may miss the people who are dear to us who have died, we may trust that they are very much alive to God. As they are alive to God, they are alive to us in the communion of saints, through the hallowed meal we share in the bread and cup. They have been and still are children of God, just as we continue to be, and are hallowed to us and to Almighty God.


Dr. Lander Bethel is pastor of Grand Avenue Presbyterian Church in Sherman.