August 26, 2011

Hard Sayings XV: Let The Zombies Bury Your Dad

Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” Luke 9:60

Here Jesus calls on a man to "follow me" and the man's response is the opposite of Matthew's which was to drop everything and follow Jesus. Instead this unnamed man says, "Lord, first let me go and bury my father". This is not a stretch in terms of a request as even I can attest to having just lost and buried my own father a few months ago...and perhaps that is why I chose to write this. Burial of your father in the 1st century would immediately follow his death (think stink) and at most we are talking a few days in our time. In Jesus' time it would've been done the same day so that the body could be interred so scavengers wouldn't make your loved one into dinner or so it wouldn't begin to get a funky death odor sitting out in the Mediterranean sun like Bernie Lomax (think Weekend At Bernie’s).

As we have seen from other rigorous demands from Jesus, He is consistently asking us to raise the level of our faith and devotion to a higher level. It is not surprising that Jesus would say that we are to forsake all (like Matthew) to follow Him - even our dead relatives since they don’t know what’s going on anyway. The strange part of this saying is the first “dead” of the two deads noted. Another way of saying what Jesus says here is, “let the dead bury the deceased”. The first question is how can any dead bury anything if they are dead too? Who are these enigmatic “dead” and why do they need to do the burying of the other smelly dead? Is Jesus making cloaked zombie references here? Does Jesus mean to leave the dead body to the undertaker? If so why is he calling undertakers “the dead”. This cannot be the case because it detracts from the overall picture that Jesus has continued to teach of rigorous demands to follow Him and His teaching at all cost to self and family. Are there any special nuances in the Greek to clue us in?

Ἄφες τοὺς νεκροὺς θάψαι τοὺς ἑαυτῶν νεκρούς
Aphes tous nekrous thapto tous eautov nekrous
Let-the-dead [ones]-entomb-the-of them-dead [ones]

Nope. The Greek literally says what is says in English. Then what do we make of this? We need to look closely at the surrounding context. This is a unit that measures the cost of following Jesus. This passage in particular is the first of two passages where the people were willing to follow Jesus…conditionally. I will follow you or I would follow you but…Jesus is saying “NO BUTS”. Now! Drop what you are doing and come! If you are not willing to follow me now regardless of circumstance…then you are not ready to follow at all! Jesus doesn’t want part of you, He wants all of you.

He will not accept a partial commitment. That would be like only committing yourself halfway to a marriage. You get married and then immediately run out the door. Suppose you do fully commit here at this point and leave you dad to the vultures. Who is left behind to bury the dead if you leave with Jesus to proclaim the Kingdom/Gospel? What if you decide not to put hand to the plow and look back? Who…or perhaps I should ask what type of people would be left behind in a town that Jesus has already passed through looking for disciples or more believers? The type of person you would expect to remain in a town like this after the Son of God has passed through is people who have rejected Jesus, the non-believers or the dead. In a way, Jesus was referring to zombies in this passage- the spiritual kind. Did someone say Brains! Apparently not, at least not in this group of unbelievers. They were animated and gave the appearance of being alive but they were really dead--spiritually dead.

So let’s look at the passage again knowing this and re-read it. Let the [spiritually] dead bury their own [physical] dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” This seems to make more sense. The implication here also is it would be the spiritually dead who would be burying their own. Perhaps this is reference to the idea that there would be spiritually dead left behind in this unnamed man’s very own family that would be able to bury their father? Scary…but this fits the overall pattern of Scripture and other allusions to division within families on account of Jesus.

They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law." Luke 12:53

There are plenty that can deal with this routine task of burying the bodies of the dead that have already moved on. Those that have been insensitive to the call or just failed to heed it are more than capable of these tasks but those that are alive in Christ must give their time to the supremely important task of trying to take the message to those that are still physically alive but do not know Christ in other places. The questions I pose to you are these: Which are you, the living man/woman or the spiritual zombie? Which is more important, burying your dead or proclaiming Him having risen from the dead?

The dead feel no pain, it is only those that are left behind that hurt. It is better that we as believers tell and teach others of the glory that lies beyond the grave to help get us out of the funk we can easily slip into after the death of a parent or loved one. If we truly believe as we say we do as Christians, we will see our fathers again anyway. So by following Jesus we are assuring this will happen. Why look back to the dead when we can search the imponderables or incommunicable attributes of the "Living God" who will raise all of us on the last day anyway? When He returns we will all be called up into the sky together. Glorious! δόξα!

" a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: "Death is swallowed up in victory." "O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?" ~1 Corinthians 15:52-55

Knowing this, doesn't it make sense to drop everything like Matthew and just follow the Master who can bring them all (father-mother-grandfather-grandmother-son-daughter-friend) back again anyway or would you rather sulk and cry over your loss and lose the only actual possiblity of seeing them again anyway? Looks like a no-brainer to me folks (pun intended).

[Right about now I should be hearing material things clank and plop on the ground as they fall from people's hands]

Addendum: Having looked at this again there might be another view to take here. Although a little far-fetched, it is concievable that this man's father hadn't even died yet and this man was asking to remain until his father passed away. This being said it would make this demand a bit more reasonable and less stringent. It would then be a little bit more reasonable to our sensibilities that Jesus would require that he leave behind his father. He was still alive and there is no body to bury. It is possible though that the father (like) mine was ill or advanced in age and death might have been eminent. In this situation he may have not wished to abandon is father in this state. Then again the ante is upped. Either way, we are to follow Jesus regardless.

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