Jesus is carrying on his normal activities – teaching and healing. A couple of guys, actually one was a teacher of religious law and the other is called a “disciple”, end up in a briefly recorded conversation. They both claim they want to join his movement. Jesus warns them that it’s tough going to do so. The second man asks if he can return home to bury his father then join in the ministry. Jesus rebukes him. “Follow me now! Let those who are spiritually dead care for their own dead.”
“Another of his disciples said, ‘Lord, first let me return home and bury my father.’ But Jesus told him, ‘Follow me now! Let those who are spiritually dead care for their own dead’” Matthew 8:21-22 NLV
Could Jesus be so insensitive to not let the man return home to bury his dad?
Dr. David H. Stern is an author, messianic Jew and considered an authority on historical Jewish practices and tradition. Stern’s perspective is that the man would not have been traveling with Jesus if his father was already dead. He may have been anticipating his death, but that it was unlikely he had already passed. His returning home would assure him of his inheritance and, upon the receipt of his father’s wealth, the man would be willing to return to follow Jesus.
Jesus may have had this insight. He might have known this man’s actual motives. Jesus might know that this man would be putting physical pleasures and the security of receiving his father’s wealth ahead of a life of following the Son of Man. Often times, trust in Jesus comes at a price. In this case, it would be the man’s sense of security.
Is this a cool, hard comment by Jesus then? Hardly, unless you consider the adage “the truth hurts” in this case.
Next we look to the gospels of Mark and Luke both of which describe situations where Jesus calls those involved to make a choice.
In Mark, Jesus mother and brothers (his birth siblings) arrive while he is teaching. They send word to him to come out and talk. The topic of the conversation they wished to have with Jesus is not recorded. When Jesus is told his family is waiting for him outside, he replies,” Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?” He goes on to state that anyone doing God’s will are his siblings and mother.
“Jesus’ mother and brothers arrived at the house where he was teaching. They stood outside and sent word for him to come out and talk with them. There was a crowd around Jesus, and someone said, ‘Your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside, asking for you.’ Jesus replied, ‘Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?’ Mark 3:31-33
The situation in Luke 14 can also be seen as Jesus being a bit cold and harsh on family. He states to a crowd that is following him that we must “hate” (in certain translations) our entire family – father, mother, wife and children – if we desire to follow him.
“’If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters – yes, even their own life – such a person cannot be my disciple’” Luke 14:26 NIV
The word we translate as “hate” from the original Greek text to English isn’t the hate we understand. Strong’s Concordance clarifies this term as to “love less in comparison”. We use the word hate as an absolute such as “I hate broccoli” or “I hate most vegetables” (yes, this is my issue I’m working through). The meaning of this is clear. I don’t want to eat any vegetables, and especially broccoli. I’m not comparing vegetables to ice cream (which I do love to eat). So as I state this in English, “hating” vegetables is only a statement about vegetables and not relative to anything else. It’s an absolute. I hate vegetables. Period.
Jesus asks only one thing from us. He wants our all. He isn’t going to play second fiddle to anyone or anything. Can we love our mothers, our family, being in nature, golf or anything else? Sure, he’s not saying we can’t love other things. But when the hard choices come, where the rubber meets the road, he calls us to choose him. And we are confronted with these choices from time to time in our lives and it can be agonizing to follow Jesus and let go of the things of this life. Consider the previous accounts. We seem naturally drawn to things that bring us short-term comfort, pleasure and security. So, we’re called here to consider the previous accounts and make our choice. Jesus or the way the rest of the world operates. Short-term versus long term…actually, the longest term.