Saturday, November 9, 2019

Resurrection: Liberating the bride and prejudice - Remembrance Day Reflection on Luke 20: 27-38

Last week when the world celebrated Halloween, it was all about “Trick or Treat.” In the gospel texts, there were several instances where people tried to trick Jesus; and he in reply treats them with love and justice. This text is yet another instance of trying to trick Jesus, and for the first time it was by a religious sect called Sadducees, who did not believe in resurrection, and so they were “Sad-you-sees.” They tried tricking Jesus by asking about Levirate Marriage and resurrection. Jesus treated them by explaining the liberative power of resurrection, where all are treated equally.  

In this given text, Sadducees bring to Jesus a riddle which I title it as “One bride and seven brothers” to be solved by Jesus. This riddle explains the world view of the first century community, where women are treated as property, and marriage is built on values of inequality, where men are dominant, and women are powerless. In this riddle, they share about a woman whom I call as the bride and she had to marry seven times to seven brothers. All the 8 of them die at various periods of time. Now in resurrection whose wife will she be is the riddle. In the entire riddle, women or this bride had no power to express her views and none cared for her, for she was treated as a property. What an ordeal it would have been for this bride to marry seven times, cutting the wedding cake seven times with the same family members. There is no space for this bride to express herself and her views on marriage. She was enforced to marry seven times just for the sake of keeping the sanctity of the husband’s family, which was called a Levirate Marriage. And such a practice received Scriptural sanction from the Deuteronomic law. 

The whole riddle was built on several misconceptions. We identify at least three misconceptions and for that matter three wrong conceptions and prejudices in this text.  

1.      Prejudice against women - women is treated as property - no power to make a choice

2.      Prejudice against marriage- it is a mechanical process trying to uphold honour and tradition of the family with no place for love and mutual consent between the partners.

3.      Prejudice against resurrection - resurrection doesn’t exist and how are relationships identified and are they similar to the practices of the world. 

In further exploring this riddle, applying decolonial hermeneutics to the text, I (ad)venture to read this text from the point of view of this one bride on whom marriage was enforced based on scripture and tradition. Here (it) goes: 

“At the age of 18, when I wanted to follow my dreams and adventures in life and pursue a career in community development, a rich man with lots of wealth and a big family met my father and betrothed me to be his wife. Neither my consent nor my choice mattered at this marriage. Against my wishes and my dreams, I went with this stranger as his wife, just to please my father and to keep the honour of the family. Little did I know that he had serious health issues and soon he died when I was 20 years old, leaving me as a young widow. I was looked down on by the society as barren with no children. When I began to look for new life avenues, the family brought forth this concept of Levirate Marriage and I was once again forced to marry the brother of my dead husband. In a span of two years he too died leaving me as a widow for a second time. Never did I think that I had to go through this ordeal of marrying all the rest of five brothers just to uphold the religious, scriptural and traditional values. No one ever asked what did I like, how did I feel and was I prepared for seven marriages. This bride died while she was still living and she also died at the end.”

The riddle as presented by the Sadducees had no voice for the bride and all they had to ask was to whom will she be a wife in resurrection? They were intrigued to know will she be recognised as a wife to the first husband or second husband or the seventh husband in resurrection. Jesus carefully listened to the riddle of Sadducees and spoke about the liberative power of resurrection, liberating the bride from prejudice. Jesus gives a fitting reply to the Sadducees and solves the mystery of this riddle. 

  1. Resurrection a liberative space for women: Jesus replies that those who are considered worthy of taking part in the resurrection of the dead will neither marry nor be given to marriage. Jesus thereby affirms that women, like this one bride who was marginalised, will be the ones considered worthy of taking part in the resurrection of the dead. This one bride would have been considered a bad omen for being childless and for being a widow in this world and would have suffered the pain and exploitation of marrying seven brothers, yet she was found to be considered worthy of being part of the resurrection from the dead. So, the message for all those who are suffering and are being exploited - be prepared to receive the hope of resurrection for you will be considered worthy in resurrection. 

  1. Resurrection is a liberative space where people are not bound by any relationships for all enjoy freedom and celebrate equality with no power structures. This call is a call to strengthen marriages, for they are liberative spaces to celebrate love and equality, dismantling all power relations between partners in a marriage. Jesus does not limit himself to the sanctions of a literal scriptural text. If he really did, he should have upheld Deuteronomy 25, the Levirate Marriage and should have chosen of the seven brothers for this single bride. Jesus was not limited by a written text, and all the more he transcended it, for he was the living Word himself. 

  1. Resurrection is a liberative space where people who have suffered like the one bride are like angels, children of resurrection and children of God, for death can lo longer conquer them.

  1. Resurrection a liberative understanding of God, for God is a living God in whose sight both the living and the dead are the same. The theology of this text is that it is the living God who builds living relationships among living people calling them to live out a life following the living God. 

  1. Resurrection a liberative perspective for life, for the calling is to celebrate the gift of life, to live a life worthy of our calling from God, bring beauty out of each life and add meaning to the life of the people around. 

Jesus liberates the bride and prejudice by offering resurrection as a space for life of equality and inclusion of all. 

I again imagine, perhaps on listening to this solving of the riddle by Jesus, the bride who suffered to be a victim of patriarchy returns to speak to all people of God to dismantle patriarchy in all forms, and celebrate the mutuality of genders in any relationship. 

On this Remembrance Sunday, it is important to remember several young widows whose husbands died in the war, and whose memory has been forgotten and erased. For God in Jesus remembers all people in his resurrection, especially those who have been suffering in life, for they are considered worthy to be resurrected from the dead. There is a hope in resurrection to become a beloved community of God, where the living God calls people to strive for peace and love in this world. As we gather here on this Remembrance Day, we are called to revisit our memory, to re-member several people who lost their lives at a war, to resist the logic of war, to remember the families, widows & children left behind and to renew our commitment for global peace.

Because Jesus spoke about Resurrection as the liberative space for bride and prejudice in this text, that served as a very good reason for women to be the first witnesses of Jesus resurrection, and the first evangelists of resurrection. Never underestimate the power of common people, in this case the lonely bride for the seven brothers, for she came out liberated by the power of resurrection. 

On a more personal note, today happens to be the day I was ordained 16 years ago into the ministry of God, and I can’t bring to memory of those great moments in my life, where I had submit to the call of God in my life.

When the great British poet Wilfred Owen was to return to the front to give his life in the futile first World War, he recited Indian Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore’s parting words to his mother as his last good bye. When he was so tragically & pointlessly killed, Owen’s mother found Tagore’s poem copied out in her son’s hand in his diary:

When I go from hence
let this be my parting word,
that what I have seen is unsurpassable.
I have tasted of the hidden honey of this
lotus, that expands on the ocean of light,
and thus am I blessed
-let this be my parting word.
In this play house of infinite forms
I have had my play
and here have I caught sight of him that is formless.
My whole body and my limbs
have thrilled with his touch who is beyond touch;
And if the end comes here, let it come
-let this be my parting word.

Raj Bharat Patta,
10th November 2019