Another would-be follower (Matthew 5:21-22)

The second would-be disciple had also to learn about priorities. There are various suggestions as to what he meant when he said that he wanted to bury his father. It is unlikely that his father had just died, because if he had, his son would be with the family mourning the loss of his father and therefore not with Jesus. When a person died in that part of the world, they were usually buried quickly, on the day itself or the next.

There are two options as to what he meant. One option is that the father was still alive, but aged and drawing near the end of life, with likelihood that his end was near. The other option concerns the custom that a son would transfer the bones of his dead father to an ossuary a year after his death. In this option, the father may have died a few weeks or months previously and the son was asking to wait a few more months to carry out this task. It looks as if the man wanted to fulfil family responsibilities and then he would follow Jesus. He was putting cultural expectations, the assumptions that others would expect him to make, above the requirements of Jesus.

The reply of Jesus dealt with this reluctance of the disciple to put Jesus first. His words could suggest that while the spiritually dead can wait around in order to bury the physical dead, his disciples have to serve the kingdom of God immediately. A real disciple will not use long-term family responsibilities as a reason for not serving Jesus. The list of options in this kind of outlook is endless. We can say to Jesus that we will do something after such an event or development happens. His reply and challenge is to get involved in the work of the kingdom now.

We cannot deduce from this statement that Jesus wants his disciples to ignore family responsibilities. After all, he had just healed Peter’s mother-in-law. The difference was that Peter and his family were putting Jesus first whereas this man had a different attitude.

This would-be disciple had to learn that he could not lay out the terms of true discipleship. Only Jesus has the authority to do so. This disciple was actually using legitimate concerns as a reason not to become a wholehearted follower of Jesus. But Jesus has the authority to claim first place over every area of life.

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