Matthew 8:21-22 says this, “And another of the disciples said to Him, ‘Lord, allow me first to go and bury my father. But Jesus *said to him, ‘Follow Me, and let the dead bury their own dead.”
Yesterday we spoke about a scribe wanting to follow Jesus. Jesus’ answer to him was probably not what He wanted to hear.
Now, another person approaches Jesus. Not everyone described in Matthew as a disciple or follower of Jesus is necessarily one of His chosen twelve. The terms have a literal meaning that’s not exactly the same as those terms as used in the context of the modern church. Some who followed Jesus from place to place and believed His teaching may have been referred to as disciples, as well. Since Jesus has just made a remark about the hardship of His ministry life, it’s unclear whether this person is one of the Twelve or someone new.
This man seems to think that Jesus expects Him to follow Him immediately. The man responds to this call with an answer of “yes, but…” He asks the Lord to allow him to go and first bury his father, implying that he will follow Jesus after that. Commentators suggest this man’s father may not have yet died. Or it’s possible that he had died, and the man was talking about the Jewish custom of reburying a loved one’s bones a year after passing. In other words, this disciple may have been requesting to delay his role as a follower of Jesus for a year or longer. This was to fulfill what custom and tradition expected from sons, especially firstborn sons.
Jesus will not agree to this request. Cultural expectations are not meant to override God’s will for a person’s life.
Jesus commands the man to follow Him, apparently meaning immediately. He tells the man to “leave the dead to bury their own dead.”
Two things are important to understand. First, the man most likely wasn’t asking to simply go to his father’s funeral and come back a few days later. It’s possible his father was not yet even dead. Commentators also suggest the man may have been planning to follow a custom of the day to re-bury a loved one’s bones a year after their death. This was thought to be the responsibility of a son, especially a firstborn son. It fell under the traditional obligations associated with honoring one’s father and mother. The man may have been asking Jesus for up to a year’s delay before returning to follow Him—no matter what, his real statement is “I will come when I’ve done some other things first.”
The second thing to understand is that Jesus absolutely asks those who would follow Him to place a greater commitment on their love and loyalty to Him than to anyone else, including parents, spouses, and children (Matthew 10:37–38).
Jesus tells the man to let the spiritually dead bury those who are physically dead. In other words, only those who follow Christ are on the road to true life (Matthew 7:13–14). No human relationship or other obligation can provide a good enough reason to leave that road behind.
As with His response to the scribe (Matthew 8:19–20), Jesus’ remark is meant to challenge assumptions—forcing someone to confront their own sincerity. If this man is not willing to “follow” Jesus until it’s socially convenient, he’s not really willing to follow, at all.
Conviction. Take a minute and just talk with God. Talk about your commitment to Him.
God, that our hearts, minds, bodies and souls would be yours.