57 And it came to pass, that, as they went in the way, a certain man said unto him, Lord, I will follow thee whithersoever thou goest.
58 And Jesus said unto him, Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head.
59 And he said unto another, Follow me. But he said, Lord, suffer me first to go and bury my father.
60 Jesus said unto him, Let the dead bury their dead: but go thou and preach the kingdom of God.
61 And another also said, Lord, I will follow thee; but let me first go bid them farewell, which are at home at my house.
62 And Jesus said unto him, No man, having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God. (Lk. 9:57-62)
I was first drawn to this scripture by the phrase, “Let the dead bury their dead…” I wondered so much why Jesus would call a grieving family “the dead”.
But before we discuss that, let us see what Jesus said to the first man, the man who told Him, “I will follow thee whithersoever thou goest”.
Jesus told this man, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head.”
That is incredible, to say the least. The Son of the Most High God had nowhere to lay His head? while even foxes and birds have somewhere to lay down and sleep?! The Kingdom of God is a worldly paradox. That is why Jesus’ words cannot marry with the “Money, come to me now!” gospel or lifestyle that worldly preachers try to propagate today (see the clip in my post “Prosperity Gospel vs Suffering for Christ”). Suffering is the price for following Christ.
Jesus was here telling the man the price to pay for following Him. He was to expect to gain nothing of this world.
“Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head.”
The Apostle Paul knew the price. In his writings, he puts it this way, “Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong” (1 Cor. 12:10).
At least, now, we know the price. It is to lose all.
Let us get back to Jesus and the man who wanted to first go bury his father then come follow Jesus. Jesus told the man, “Let the dead bury their dead…”
In African society we highly revere a family that has undergone a death, and we would hardly use such words as Jesus used here in a situation where a family is grieving, even in our imagination. But here Jesus tells a man who wants to go bury his father, “Let the dead bury their dead…”
I will tell you one thing: a man who has nowhere to lay down his head can talk a little differently than a man who owns a private jet. He has that luxury because he has nothing to lose. Jesus certainly made full use of that advantage.
But why, pray, would Jesus call this grieving family “the dead”? Was He irreverent?
No, Jesus was neither being irreverent, nor was He callous. I am sure that He loved this family very much, and it is inconceivable that their grief would not have touched His tender heart. But Jesus always stayed in the context of the heavenly Kingdom, and here He was stating a very important fact concerning what He came to do in the world. Jesus came to bring eternal life into the world. The Word of God teaches that anyone who has not received Jesus into their lives is spiritually dead (Eph. 2:1-3).
In the natural, there is only one thing that we can do with a dead person: bury them. Once someone is well and truly dead, all we can do is bury them, to rise no more.
But – thank God! – in the Kingdom of God, we have another option. We can choose to bring resurrection life to people through preaching the gospel. Jesus opted to work with this option: preach the Kingdom of God and bring resurrection life to the people of God.
You can’t be callous with a dead person. In fact, you can rattle them until their teeth fall off if it will bring them back to life again. The people that Jesus was referring to (this man’s family) were spiritually dead. If He truly loved them, there was only one thing He could do for them: give them eternal life! That is why He told this man, “Let the dead bury their dead: but go thou and preach the kingdom of God.”
What a glorious combination!
Today the modern world has coined a phrase: ‘political correctness’. Many in the world today believe that ‘political correctness’ among worldly leaders is killing civilization as we know it. In the spiritual world, we have an equivalent, though probably unspoken term: ‘worldly correctness’. ‘Worldly correctness’ means we do not want to step on people’s toes with the gospel because we feel we will offend them. I am sure that this attitude on our part will send a lot of people to hell.
A Muslim friend of mine told me that as long as I did not mention Jesus in my discussions with him concerning religion, he would listen to me. I told him, “Whatever I have to tell you begins and ends with Jesus”.
Jesus was not ‘worldly correct’. Jesus had only one aim: to be ‘heavenly correct’. He talked and lived the only life that really matters: the eternal heavenly life. When Jesus therefore told the man “Let the dead bury their dead”, He was stating a spiritual reality of the life that He came to live.
We expend an inordinately large amount of energy and time trying to please and to fit in with the world. But that is not love. Smiling is good, but we cannot smile and expect to save the world. The same goes for intellectual arguments and counter-arguments. If we truly love the world, the only thing of worth that we can give them is to solidly preach to them the gospel of Jesus Christ. That is why Jesus tells this man, “Go thou and preach the kingdom of God”.
Only the gospel of salvation through Jesus Christ can bring true life to people.
Let us have one last glance at this scripture.
If there are “the dead” in this world, then there are also the living. This refers to the church. In this context, I believe also that Jesus was telling this man to appreciate the church, more than his worldly flesh and blood kith and kin. He was laying upon him the importance of the church vis-à-vis his flesh and blood relations.
This aspect is a challenge to many people in church. Many do not know where to draw the line between their worldly relations and the church.
But Jesus did not have any uncertainties, hesitations or misgivings in this regard. He knew exactly where to draw the line. When His mother and brethren came to fetch Him, the Bible says, “33 And he answered them, saying, Who is my mother, or my brethren? 34 And he looked round about on them which sat about him, and said, Behold my mother and my brethren! 35 For whosoever shall do the will of God, the same is my brother, and my sister, and mother” Mk. 3:33-35.
That’s pretty tough to swallow. We are called upon to love and care for our own flesh and blood, and even the world in general. But we ought to know where our true inheritance lies. It lies in the church, which is the true Body of Christ. True spiritual brethren are our spiritual inheritance. The church is our “portion”. That is why our true value with God is connected to how much we value His church, the brethren.
Our worldly relationships with our worldly kin should be whittled down to the bare minimum. (In the Spirit, of course, we will be working overtime to get them saved!)
But on the contrary, we should love and devote ourselves to the church with all our heart, with all our mind, and with all our strength. Jesus set the example for us.
[Photo credit: Carol Lanthier]