Life and Death,
Painted by an anonymous hand,
Painted in the 18th century,
Oil on canvas
© Wellcome Collection
For when they rise from the dead...
Some Sadducees – who deny that there is a resurrection – came to him and they put this question to him, ‘Master, we have it from Moses in writing, if a man’s brother dies leaving a wife but no child, the man must marry the widow to raise up children for his brother. Now there were seven brothers. The first married a wife and then died leaving no children. The second married the widow, and he too died leaving no children; with the third it was the same, and none of the seven left any children. Last of all the woman herself died. Now at the resurrection, when they rise again, whose wife will she be, since she had been married to all seven?’
Jesus said to them, ‘Is not the reason why you go wrong, that you understand neither the scriptures nor the power of God? For when they rise from the dead, men and women do not marry; no, they are like the angels in heaven. Now about the dead rising again, have you never read in the Book of Moses, in the passage about the Bush, how God spoke to him and said: I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob? He is God, not of the dead, but of the living. You are very much mistaken.’
Reflection on the painting
In the time of Jesus, not all faithful Jews agreed on what happened to believers when they died. There were different views on life after death. Sadducees, some of whom confront Jesus in today’s Gospel reading, did not believe in any resurrection of the dead. So they challenged Jesus. They put to Jesus a scenario that they thought reduced the teaching on resurrected life to absurdity. If a woman had seven husbands in this life, all of whom died one after the other, whose wife will she be in the next life? A clever scenario. In response to the Sadducees, Jesus declares that resurrected life is not just an extension of this worldly life into the heavenly world. It is a different kind of life that is brought into being by God. The God who gave us life at birth will give us a new, different life beyond death.
Our 18th century painting, by an anonymous hand, depicts a woman, standing, divided vertically into two. The right side shows life, the left side showing her after her death, as a skeleton. The right side depicts the pleasures of life: red ribbons in her powdered hair, jewellery, a bouquet of flowers in her hand, the skirt hem decorated with a lace trim, a bed of flowers behind her. The left side shows death: she is holding a reaper's scythe, next to her are a used Bible and a broken candle, and in the background are barren mountains.
Whilst the painting is composed to remind the viewer of their mortality and of the shortness and fragility of earthly life, Jesus tells us that this present life is an anticipation of what awaits us in the next life...
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