Best of Daily Reflections: Why Is Jesus So Mean?
But Jesus told him, “Let the spiritually dead bury their own dead! Your duty is to go and preach about the Kingdom of God.”
Growing up in Sunday School, I sometimes encountered this passage from Luke (or its parallel in Matthew 8:21-22). The teacher or preacher would talk about how following Jesus takes priority over everything else. I’d nod in apparent agreement. But, inside, I wondered: “Why is Jesus so mean? Why would Jesus not let this man bury his father? How could the dead bury the dead? Was the father to remain unburied, rotting away? Why would Jesus be so harsh?” Of course I never asked questions like these out loud because I was in Sunday School, for goodness sakes. But I did wonder...and worry.
As I began to study Jesus from a scholarly perspective, I began to see this story in a new light. Jewish burial practice in the time of Jesus involved two burials. First, a body would be buried shortly after death. Then, perhaps a year later, after the flesh had rotted away and only bones were left, the bones would be exhumed and placed in a stone box for a final burial. So it’s likely that Jesus was not asking someone to leave his father completely unburied. Rather, he was rejecting this man’s request for a lengthy delay in following Jesus.
Although this makes more sense to me and makes Jesus seem less harsh, my study of the culture of Jesus accentuates the offense of his response. In the time of Jesus, family was highly valued. Honoring one’s parents was one of the greatest of all goods. So, even if Jesus was responding to a request for the final burial of a father, he was, nevertheless, speaking in a most scandalous way. He was daring to say that something is more important than family loyalty. Following him matters even more than family, even more than doing what the culture prizes.
As we seek to respond personally to the words of Jesus, I do not think we are to stop burying our parents or to forget about honoring them. Rather, we need to take a long, hard look at our lives, asking: What am I putting before following Jesus? What is keeping me from all-out commitment to him? Where am I holding back from the Lord’s call on my life? It may turn out that we have made an idol of loyalty to family or to work or to our personal desires. The call of Jesus challenges us to consider what it would mean to live for him first and foremost in the midst of our relationships and responsibilities.
QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER REFLECTION: What are the things in your life that hold you back from full commitment to Jesus? Do some of your loyalties get in the way of your loyalty to the Lord? How might your daily life be different if you were living for Jesus every moment of every day?
PRAYER: Dear Lord, thank you for calling me to follow you. What an honor and privilege to be numbered among your disciples!
I do follow you, Lord...well, sort of. You know that there are times when my “yes” to you is unqualified. And then there are other times, times of hesitation, times when I want to serve two or more masters, times when I seek first my own comfort and happiness. Forgive me, Lord Jesus, for the times I have put you off.
Help me to trust you so completely that I follow you without hesitation or delay. Show me, Lord, what it means to live for you in every facet of my life, in my family and at work, among my friends and among strangers. May I follow you everywhere, no matter where I am.
To you be all the glory! Amen.