Reductio ad absurdum. That is what they call it, reduction to absurdity. It is a method of argument. You take an idea you disagree with and push it too far. By pushing it too far, by taking it to the extreme, you lead people to question the idea itself.
Children hear this from their parents. A teenager goes along with the crowd in high school and ends up suspended because of a senior prank. The next day, as he tries to explain what happened, his mom shuts down the conversation. She says, “If everyone else were jumping off a cliff, would you do that too?” Reduction to absurdity.
Take the idea, “I do something because everyone else is doing it,” and push it to the extreme. That is, do not talk about eating healthy because everyone else is doing it or picking up trash along a hiking trail because everyone else is doing it or joining a “race for the cure” because everyone else is doing it. No, talk about everyone jumping off a cliff. Use that situation and the whole idea of doing what others do becomes absurd.
Arguing this way is common when it comes to religion. When people do not believe in something, it is easy to ridicule it. “Why don’t you just pray about that?” his sister says when he tells her how he is having trouble in his marriage. “And, while you’re at it,” she says, “pray for the children starving in India and the animals dying because of the plastic we throw in the ocean. And pray I win a billion dollars. Yeah, pray for that too. After all, prayer worked so well when mom died of cancer. You just go and pray about all of those things.” Take a topic you do not believe in (prayer, creation, miracles, demons, hell, etc.) and then show how absurd it is to follow that train of thought: reduction to absurdity.
Something like this is going on in our gospel reading today. The Sadducees do not believe in the resurrection and so they take the argument to the extreme. “If there is a resurrection, what is God going to do about the Law of Moses? Moses has given us a law that gives life in the face of death. If a man dies and leaves no heir, his brother will raise up an heir for him through his wife and preserve his name. This is the law Moses gives us. A way of life in the face of death. If there is a resurrection, how is God going to sort out all of these things?”
And then they push it to the extreme. One wife, seven brothers, seven failures, seven deaths and the question, “In the resurrection, whose wife will this woman be?” They have taken the idea of the resurrection and reduced it to the absurd. And, when something is absurd, it is easier to brush off and put it aside.
Rather than follow this train of thought, however, Jesus invites the Sadducees to follow Him. He enters their conversation and takes them from the ridiculous to His sublime.
If the resurrection were just a repetition of this world, then it would be ridiculous, indeed. But the resurrection is different. It is a world without death. People neither marry nor are given in marriage. Laws about preserving life and preserving one’s name are no longer needed because no one will die. Think about that, a world where no one will die. We are so accustomed to living with death we have hard time imagining eternal life in Christ. Our world gives us extravagant vacations to celebrate life and health care regimens to prolong life, but nothing that is eternal life. Eternal life is only a gift from God, and it comes to us in Christ.
That is what Jesus is doing in His response. He is offering the Sadducees the gift of eternal life. Jesus enters their ridiculous argument and leads them through it to His sublime answer. God is a God of life. Although God gives laws through Moses to preserve life in this world, He gives a promise to Moses about life in another world, a world which does not end. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, they are alive, and they are alive in God. “Follow me,” Jesus is saying in the midst of this argument. “Follow me and I will give you life, life that never ends.”
In a world immersed in death, Jesus brings the promise of life: eternal life.
People die in this age and God graciously orders our life with this in mind. He calls us to care for those who are sick, to attend to widows and orphans, to support and protect one another in this bodily life. But God’s work does not end there. God also calls us into a greater kingdom: a kingdom of life in His Son.
This is the promise Moses heard at the burning bush. This is the promise they are hearing in Jesus. This is the promise I share with you today. In Jesus, there is life, eternal life. This promise will be reduced to absurdity when Jesus is crucified. The One who brings life will be dead on a cross. But Jesus will rise from the dead to lead us from the ridiculous to the sublime. He defeats death and gives life to all who trust in Him. Eternal life is yours in Christ. And that is not an argument to reduce to an absurdity. It is a promise to live in.
Concordia Theology-Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in preaching Luke 20:27-40.
Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach Luke 20:27-40.