Leave the Dead to Bury their own Dead?

By Adam Brown –

After preaching to a great multitude in the Galilean mountains, Jesus returned home to Capernaum amidst a frenzied throng of enthused witnesses.

On route, He cleansed a leper (Matthew 8:1-4). Upon entering his hometown, a Centurion immediately confronted Him with a request to heal a paralyzed servant (Matthew 8:5-13). Having finally arrived to His guest room, He healed Peter’s mother-in-law of a fever (Matthew 8:14-15). That evening many of the townsfolk brought their sick and demon-possessed, and Jesus healed them all (Matthew 8:16).

It had been an epic day. Jesus’ popularity was swelling. Crowds were mounting. His movement was gaining unbridled momentum. People wanted “in,” to be counted among the masses who saw something special in this “might-be” Messiah.

So, what did Jesus do? Did He ride the wave? Bask in the glory? Expand the tent? Launch a newcomers ministry?

No. He escaped:

Now when Jesus saw a crowd around Him, He gave orders to go over to the other side.

Matthew 8:18

As Jesus was extraditing Himself from His popular and growing Capernaum ministry, two men saw Him as He was making a run for the boat.

The first man, a scribe, seems to have been a very promising prospect. He is quoted as having said, “Teacher, I will follow you where ever you go” (Matthew 8:19). We would be inclined to sign him up, make him feel welcome, cater to his every felt-need and desire. Not Jesus. Jesus quickly rebuked the scribe, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head” (Matthew 8:20). Translation: “Beat it!”

The second man, a grieving son, sought a conditional acceptance into Jesus’ band of disciples, saying, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father” (Matthew 8:21). Of all the reasons to absent oneself from a discipleship opportunity, this has got to be near the top. Not only would we permit such a thing, but we might even attend the funeral ourselves in order to show our support and pastoral care. Not Jesus. He immediately dashed the discipleship dreams of this heart-stricken lad, “Follow me, and leave the dead to bury their own dead” (Matthew 8:22). We never find out if this man followed Jesus or attended his father’s funeral. But, having disappeared from the pages of Scripture, it seems he chose the burial instead of the boat.

I am struck by how far we are, in the church in Canada, from Jesus’ example.

When we find ourselves overseeing a burgeoning ministry, we seek to grow it more. We don’t flee to the other side of the lake. We don’t raise the bar when the masses rally; we lower it, hoping for still more.

When a prospective disciple comes to us to stroke our ego with smooth words of flattery, promising to join and to follow, we roll out the red carpet. We don’t spell out the cost, the sacrifice, or the expectation of discipleship; we market the profit, the benefit, and the relative ease of being counted among our number.

When a well meaning-member sends a text or an email to explain why he or she will not be participating in any given church event or discipleship opportunity, we are quick to ease their conscience. We don’t rebuke or challenge the member for a half-hearted commitment; we placate the thorn-choked Christian for fear of losing another soul in the seat or tithe in the plate.

If the scribe needed a little extra encouragement or the son needed a little pastoral comfort, neither of them got it from Jesus. His mission was too urgent and His ministry too important for men such as these. They were welcome to ebb and flow with the crowds, but they could not have a seat at the table.

They could not go on mission with Christ. The scribe loved his house too much. The son loved his unsaved family too much. Jesus required more from them.

Jesus’ expectations, His requirements and demands for disciples, have not changed in the last 2,000 years.

And yet, I cannot help but fear that most of us don’t even come close to the level of commitment that the scribe and the son were willing to offer Jesus. How many of us would even get this close to the boat? No, we count ourselves out for much less.

What stops us from giving Jesus the commitment He demands from us?

The weather. Vacation homes. Rec-league athletics. Netflix. An extra pair of shoes or pants or earrings. The NHL or MLB or NBA or PGA or NFL or CFL. The ladder of corporate success. Sleep. Dance or gymnastics or horseback riding or swimming or skiing. Getting a bigger house or bigger television or faster car or more sea-dos or more ski-dos. Redoing our kitchen or our basement or our loft or our bunkie.

Need I go on?

Leave the dead to bury their own dead?

Maybe we are. The dead burying our own dead.

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