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
This is politically incorrect Jesus at, arguably, His best. The one thing that every good Jew knew must take precedence even before daily morning prayers was to bury one’s father. Only something earth-shattering, something like the long-awaited Jewish Messiah whose entrance would mean healing and restoration not just for Israel but for the world, could trump the primacy and urgency of this important ritual.
Which may be one reason why Matthew took such careful note of Jesus’ words. He is drawing attention to the fact that the Messiah Himself is here in the flesh. With that dawning reality, life as we once knew it will never be the same again.
But, what if, in the spirit of the whole “What would Jesus do?” thing, we were to try out Jesus’ words for size? What if we were to apply a similar disregard for the many excuses we have heard for not following God’s call? “My children really need me these days.” Or, “my spouse has cancer and really depends on me for support.” Or, “it is my responsibility to take on the family business.”
What if we were to say, in response, “Follow me, and let your kids take care of themselves,” or “Follow me, and let your spouse find support elsewhere,” or “Follow me, and let your family business find someone else to run it”? We ministers like myself might be fired. Others of us might lose a friend or two. We might even make it into a future edition of Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People- only as an example of what not to do.
And I think Matthew would say that this is the whole point. Because we don’t have Jesus’ authority. We never will.
Only One who is either totally crazy or has a whole lot of authority, or both, can say something like this. Could Jesus have been just a deranged, raving lunatic? I’m sure there are those who think so. I prefer to rule that theory out on the basis of Scriptural witness and more than two thousand years of church tradition.
Which leaves me grappling with the other piece: authority. Only One whose purpose is to heal and restore the world and who has the power to do this very thing can get away with this sort of language. Only One on an urgent, life-saving mission, who has the much-needed vaccine in His back pocket in answer to the virus that is on the loose killing people, can talk this way.
These days most of us don’t like to talk about authority, unless it is our own and we are asserting it. The idea that God in the person of Jesus Christ had a prior claim on our lives before we came along is, therefore, not very chic. But there it is, anyway: “Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead.” It is shocking and unsettling- the way that only God can be.