Let the dead bury their own dead
One of the most challenging sayings of Jesus comes in Matthew 8.22:
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.’Matthew 8.21-22 (NIV)
It sounds like Jesus is guilty of extremely bad pastoral practice – to say nothing of a lack of compassion. Jesus appears to be saying that if we don’t follow him, we are as good as dead.
As so often in the gospels, we are given no backstory. How long has this woman or man been a disciple? Had the father rejected Jesus? Was he trying to stop his son follow Jesus? Was the father dying imminently, or was the disciple effectively saying, ‘I’ll come and follow you at some point in the future – probably after my father dies’?
Whatever the answer to those questions may be, Luke isn’t stupid: we don’t need those answers to understand what’s going on here.
Whatever this disciple’s exact personal circumstances are, he is using them as an excuse to delay following Jesus. This is not the sort of wholehearted devotion that Jesus calls his followers to.
How easy it is to let the cares and concerns of this world crowd out our faith. We don’t have time to pray. It is easier to stay home and laze about than go to church. We are tired in the evening after work so can’t go to a prayer and Bible study group. Money is tight so I’ll give church the few pennies left over.
Friends, life is never easy. There will always be something that tries to stop us following Jesus – either circumstances, or something within ourselves. That comes from the sinfulness deep inside us, the evil in the world that wants to stop us following Jesus.
Jesus knew that. There will always be concerns in this life that hinder our discipleship, but if we let them stop us following Jesus, we let them win, and demonstrate that Jesus was not that important to us anyway.
Instead, together we need to learn how to follow Jesus through ‘the valley of the shadow of death’, not avoiding it but supporting one another through it. This is why church is so important. Church isn’t a building it’s a body – a body of people who are all sometimes struggling, sometimes soaring, but always trying to follow Jesus together.
That is what a church should be.