“Let the dead bury their own dead!” – Jesus
We live in a culture of sound bites. Our attention spans are incredibly short, and if a story doesn’t catch our attention in the first couple of seconds, we move on. But sometimes we need to listen more carefully to what is being said.
Yesterday’s Chronological Bible reading included a story shared by Matthew and Luke, in which Jesus talks about what it will cost people to follow him. Three people (in Luke 9:57-62, see also Matthew 8:18-22) approach Jesus and make grand claims about following him – or excuses about not following him immediately.
Jesus responds to them – and to us – with three important sayings.
Your comfort may need to be sacrificed.
Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but Jesus was homeless. Material comfort and safety are not what Jesus promises his people. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. If you want to follow Jesus, you should expect to get your hands dirty, to relinquish the dream of wealth and prosperity, to identify personally with those who have very little.
You should expect to go “all in.”
I enjoy watching the World Series of Poker on TV from time to time. It makes the math side of my brain happy to think about percentages, odds, and card games. The most dramatic action a poker player can take is to go “all in” – to bet all of his or her chips on the current hand. It’s all or nothing. It’s winner-take-all. It’s win or go home. There is no looking back.
Jesus wants this from his disciples, too. Jesus went “all in” by taking on human flesh, living among us, serving us, and dying for us. His kingdom is best suited for those who pour their entire selves into service and discipleship. Looking back and wishing for the former life is not an option.
You will have to stop making excuses.
Our Chronological Bible uses the New Living Translation, which interprets Jesus’s words in a way that softens them. Instead of saying, “Let the dead bury their own dead” – which is what Matthew and Luke actually wrote – the NLT says, “Let the spiritually dead bury their own dead.” That just takes the wind out of Jesus’s sails.
In the story, Jesus invited a person to follow him, but that person asked for extra time to go bury his recently deceased father. It was an excuse, a reason to avoid following Jesus right now. I once heard a preacher suggest that perhaps the man had invented the story of his father’s death, just to have an excuse not to go with Jesus.
We should stand in awe of Jesus’s frankness. He was not being cruel or unkind to this man. Instead, Jesus was challenging him – and us – to set aside all excuses that delay discipleship.
I’m too busy now; I’ll help the next person in need that I see. I feel the impulse to pray for someone now, but I’ll do it next time. I could spend time in prayer and in scripture this morning, but I have too many other responsibilities that can’t wait. I would like to help with that service project, but… I want to go to Guatemala, but… I could bring snacks for the youth, but… I know I should change what I watch online, but… I know I need to be reconciled with this person, but…
Jesus says, “Let the dead bury their own dead.” Are you willing to be so obedient?