by Wye Huxford
The more I read the gospels and listen carefully to Jesus, the more I begin to understand His mission. Obviously that is a bit of a no-brainer kind of conclusion, but I'm amazed at the clarity of Jesus once I learn to read Him for who He is and not what my culture (both church and non-church) has often said about Him.
One of the words that seems to leap out at me these days is "intense." Jesus was an intense man of God who is utterly determined to obey humbly the mission given to Him by the Father. That intensity of purpose means that He pushed the envelope rather strongly at times.
A great example of that is the comment He makes to a would-be follower in Matthew 8:21, 22. "Another disciple said to him, 'Lord, first let me go and bury my father.' But Jesus told him, 'Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead'" (NIV). This one has stumped biblical-studies scholars over the centuries at a variety of places. Is the man's father already dead and Jesus is saying, "Don't even go to the funeral"? Or is the man's father elderly and the man is saying, "It will be a while; I have to wait until my father is dead and buried"?
Either way, Jesus is pushing pretty radically. Jewish expectations were for sons, especially if this man is the eldest son, to take care of aging fathers and bury them properly. Jesus is saying, if taken at face value, "Don't worry about that stuff."
Then, is the first "dead" describing a person physically dead or spiritually dead? Most things I've read suggest that it is spiritually dead, as in, "Let the spiritually dead take care of the physically dead people." Some have even suggested that Jesus is saying something like "Let the burier of the dead take care of burying the dead."
We could probably take Jesus in a kind of hyper-literalism here and miss the point. Jesus Himself gives John instructions about taking care of His mother in John 19:25ff. I can't find any other place where He expects of us what He isn't willing to do Himself. This verse surely isn't suggesting that Jesus is some kind of hard-hearted tyrant who doesn't even care about the death of one's father.
But if the point Jesus is trying to make is that following Him means absolute allegiance, then He could not have picked a better way to make that point. Few relationships would have been more intense in that day than a son to his father; yet even that relationship cannot stand in the way of our allegiance to Him.
In Luke's parallel account of these words, he adds the phrase, "Go and proclaim the kingdom of God" (Luke 9:60). Jesus is not calling for allegiance for the mere sake of allegiance. He wants those who follow Him to get clearly what is at stake - and that has to do with proclaiming the good news of the Kingdom.
So this really ranks among the more intense things Jesus ever said. And it demands a kind of allegiance that is sometimes hard to offer. I've never been disappointed by offering Him that as best I can!