Another of the disciples said to Him, "Lord, permit me first to go and bury my father." But Jesus *said to him, "Follow Me, and allow the dead to bury their own dead." (Matthew 8:21-22)
This is one of the more difficult texts in Jesus’ teaching, but it must be considered and taken at face value. First and foremost realize that the apostle Paul reminds Timothy that if someone does not take care of their family they are worse than an infidel, moreover throughout the Old Testament we see the will of God is clearly that our fathers and mothers must be honored and cared for. I would even contend that one of the things that angers God tremendously in our day is the disregard for parents. Our media downplays fathers and mothers, kids are encouraged in school to think outside of the value systems their parents have imparted, and are even taught often that they are growing up in a different world and they are more intelligent and essentially superior to their parents.
What then is this text teaching? Is Jesus contradicting the perfect Law of God? Is He speaking differently than His apostle taught Timothy and Us? Absolutely not! The term ‘go and bury my father’ does not refer to a dead father, but to a dying father. The disciple is requesting to be able to go and be with his father until he dies. This seems to be a reasonable and even Godly request, however Jesus responds by commanding this disciple to follow Him and to “allow the dead to bury their own dead.” We also see similar commands in the other Gospel accounts as well. Jesus is teaching that he never comes next. The disciple was not at all wrong about his desire to bury his father, the disciple’s error was in the words “Permit me first...” Jesus had to be harsh on this command, though in our eyes it may seem over the top, even a ridiculous demand, we must see it from the other side.
I would contend that “permit me first...” is at the root of every single sin without exception. Permit me first to serve myself, permit me first to get my house and my car, permit me first to get married, permit me first to watch some TV, permit me first to have my best life now, permit me first to win this argument, permit me first to get myself pleasure, permit me first to... do whatever, and immediately Christ then becomes second at best. Following Christ entails caring for our dying relatives, it does, but caring for our dying relatives without doing it in service to Christ is mere works and not faithful righteousness. The late Vance Havner preached a sermon on this text and it really is worth a listen. It can be downloaded here.
Jesus knew full well that “permit me first” would cause more damage to His disciples than anything else, even violation of the Law. Christ knew that at the heart of lawbreaking was the ‘permit me first’ attitude, therefore even in the most innocent of situations such as aiding a dying father the notion of ‘permit me first’ being acceptable had to be destroyed.
On a side note: I hope to be posting more often again, but with summer being over and youth ministry being in full swing I have neglected setting the time aside for this blog. No promises, but now that everything is up and rollin’ again for the year there should be more frequent postings here.