Are You Serious?


Another of the disciples said to him, "Lord, let me first go and bury my father." But Jesus said to him, "Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead." (Mat 8:21-22)

Are you serious? How can the dead bury the dead? Those words call up some strange images, and taken literally, what Jesus said would be absurd. We need to take what Jesus said seriously, but no, we don't take everything Jesus said literally. In fact, a lot of what Jesus said has to be understood as a figure of speech. After all, He spoke in parables so that the wicked wouldn't get it. God wants us to seek Him diligently and those that want quick and easy answers of God's ways will never get it. They will, of course, make all kinds of excuses, like, if God wants me to understand then why doesn't He make it easy? Well - because more than anything else, our relationship to God is based on love and you should fervently pursue the things you love. Besides, saying something like "the dead bury the dead" is an attention grabber. It makes you stop and think. So, I think that Jesus spoke this way to get people's attention, but also to force us to stop and think seriously about the things he said.

Most commentators interpret "dead" as a metaphor for a spiritual condition. In other words, the "spiritually dead" can take care of the "physically dead." It is certainly true that those who follow Jesus have come alive spiritually and those who don't are metaphorically already dead in trespasses and sins. But that interpretation has never really satisfied me completely because it makes it sound like those who follow Jesus can just leave all the nitty-gritty details of life behind. Kinda like, we can be a bunch of "losers" who never do anything but hang out here while following Jesus. I don't think the idea is that we can escape the necessities of life, like leaving a bunch of dead, rotting corpses lying around! That would turn the saying of Jesus into an excuse for being a bum.

There is another figure of speech that might work here: metonymy. Metonymy is "a trope in which one word is put for another; a change of names which have some relation to each other." It's like when we use "The White House" to refer to the U.S. President. Treating "dead" as metonymy means we can replace "dead" with something associated with "being dead." So I interpret "dead" as referring to worldly, or carnal, things in both instances.

Those who are still trapped in a carnal mind will focus on carnal things. Those who are worldly will worry about the things of the world. However, what those who are worldly are doing is not what the spiritually minded should be doing. Those who are concerned about spiritual things need to get serious about being spiritual and not make excuses or procrastinate because of worldly things. Really, it's not so much one or the other, but the focus of your attention regardless of what others are doing or what it might cost you in terms of worldly things.

Think of the excuses people make for not taking spiritual things seriously. They might lose a job, or make a friend upset, or not be able to buy a new fishing boat. All of those worldly things seem to need immediate attention, and surely there is plenty of time later to worry about spiritual things. Jesus can wait, they figure, until all these necessities of life are dealt with. Of course, the excuse is usually something noble, like taking care of one's family. That's the man's response to Jesus. It wasn't that his father was dead and waiting to be buried. More likely, his father was old and would soon die, so the man used that as an excuse for not taking the risk of following Jesus. But none of this excuse making is going to work with Jesus. When He calls, you better go. If we trust Jesus, we have to also trust that our needs will be met. There will be time available to deal with the necessities of life. But when Jesus calls, He means you to follow Him right then and there. No excuses. No delay. Seriously.




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