21 “Another of the disciples said to him, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” 22 And Jesus said to him, “Follow me, and leave the dead to bury their own dead.” (Matthew 8:21–22 (ESV)
Matthew groups together nine stories containing ten specific miracles in chapters 8–9. There are three miracles in 8:1–17, teaching on true discipleship (8:18–22), and then three more miracles (8:23–9:8). This is followed by Jesus’ teaching again about true discipleship (9:9–17), and finally three more miracle stories; one of which includes two miracles (9:18–33). Today, we begin examining the cost of following Jesus (8:18-22).
Jesus’ disciples must follow Jesus on His terms. Just as Jesus has authority over disease (Matt. 8:1-17), so also does He wield authority over His followers.
Jesus interacts with two individuals. Were they willing to follow Jesus; whatever the cost? The first individual was a scribe (8:18-22). The second was an unidentified man. Nothing is known of him except that he was a disciple.
Upon hearing Jesus’ interaction with the first man, the second individual said to Jesus, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” On the surface, this does not seem like an unreasonable request. All of us have experienced the death of a loved one; perhaps even a father. What could more appropriate than to first conduct a funeral and burial of one’s family member before following Jesus? However, the statement needs clarification.
The second man’s statement did not mean that his father had died. Rather, he meant that he would not follow Jesus until his father died and then receive his rightful inheritance. “The phrase “I must bury my father” was a common figure of speech meaning, “Let me wait until I receive my inheritance,” explains Dr. John MacArthur.
The word bury (θάπτω; thapto) means to take care of a father until his death; not because of his death. The man was saying that he had to wait until his father died before he could be the Lord’s disciple.
Jesus replied, ““Follow me, and leave the dead to bury their own dead.” Jesus used a play on words to mean the spiritually dead are to take care of those who physically die. Was Jesus being insensitive to family responsibilities?
“One of an eldest son’s most basic responsibilities (in both Greek and Jewish cultures) was his father’s burial. The initial burial took place shortly after a person’s decease, however, and family members would not be outside talking with rabbis during the reclusive mourning period immediately following the death,” states commentator Craig Keener.
“It has recently been shown that what is in view here instead is the secondary burial: a year after the first burial, after the flesh had rotted off the bones, the son would return to rebury the bones in a special box in a slot in the tomb’s wall. The son in this narrative could thus be asking for as much as a year’s delay.”
What the man was wanting was an unspecified amount of time before his father’s death, and then up to another year following his father’s death, before he would follow Jesus.
How are we like this man? Perhaps it’s when we place conditions on our discipleship. I’ll serve you Lord, but first let me do this; whatever “this” is. It may mean marriage, money, power, position, pleasure, etc. We place the pursuit of “this” above the pursuit of Jesus. This is idolatry.
“The scribe was rejected by Christ as a follower because he made his offer without consideration and imagined that he would enjoy an easy life. The person whom Christ retains had an opposite fault. He was prevented from immediately obeying the call of Christ by the weakness of thinking it a hardship to leave his father. However, whatever duties we owe to men must give way when God enjoins upon us what is immediately due to himself. All ought to consider what God requires from them as individuals, and what is demanded by their particular calling, that earthly parents may not prevent the claims of the highest and only Father of all from remaining entire,” states John Calvin.
We must count the cost if we are going to follow Christ. We must be willing to pay the price if we’re going to follow Jesus. Have a blessed day in the Lord.
Soli deo Gloria!