Jesus' response to this teacher seems designed to put him off. It could be that he distrusted a member of a group that was usually in opposition to him, but he does not reject the man. He may be identifying what problem the man will have if he does follow Jesus. By indicating that the leader has no home, no income, and no other resources he makes the man think about giving up money, possessions, and even ambition. Jesus is indicating that he is totally and completely dependent on God for all his physical needs, and indicates that those who follow him must have the same attitudes of self-sacrifice and trust in God. Jesus is telling him that the Kingdom, its preaching, and service is more important than any other concern.
It should be obvious that this is a very scary prospect to the teacher of the law, and to any of us who feel the call of Christ. The love of God and faith in God that is required of a follower of Christ implies a relationship with God which is vital, dynamic, and trusting. This relationship does turn the normal idea of life and its pursuit upside down. Jesus is asking the teacher of the law, with all his prominence and education, if he can make the transition. He is asking "Can you walk with me into homeless poverty if that is where the path leads?"
Jesus now turns out attention from poverty to relationships. He has called this man but the man offers an excuse. The first point is don't delay, don't let the social pressures you feel cause you to hold back. It is always easy to put something or someone off and then gradually talk yourself out of it. With the Kingdom, that is very dangerous. Jesus' early message to people expressed urgency and so delay would not be something he would accept. (Mark 1:15 "The time has come," he said. "The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!")
The other problem is what the man gives as a reason to delay, the death of his father. Normally he would be expected to perform this duty out of love and respect. However, Jesus indicates he should not. The explanation is again the urgency of the Kingdom and the fact that it is more important than any other thing. Jesus here implies that the words "dead" and "living" have very different meanings than people usually think. A living person is one filled with the Spirit who has faith in God, and loves Him. This has nothing to do with the phisical life of the body. Normally, however, we are to show respect for the dead and act of burial is a work of mercy. See, CCC 2299-2301, and CCC 2447.
- " The faith of his heart showed itself to the Lord; but his dutiful affec tion made him delay. But the Lord Christ when He is preparing men for the Gospel, will have no excuse from this carnal and temporal affection interfere. It is true that both the law of God prescribes these duties, and the Lord Himself reproves the Jews, because they destroyed this very commandment of God. And the Apostle Paul has in his Epistle laid it down, and said, "This is the first commandment with promise." What? "Honour thy father and thy mother."' God of a surety spake it. This young man then wished to obey God, and to bury his father; but it is place, and time, and circumstance, which is in this case to give way to place, and time, and circumstance. A father must be honoured, but God must be obeyed. He that begat us must be loved, but He that created us must be preferred. "I am calling thee," saith He, "to My Gospel; I have need of thee for another work: this is a greater work than that which thou wishest to be doing. 'Let the dead bury their dead.' Thy father is dead: there are other dead men to bury the dead." Who are the dead who bury the dead? Can a dead man be buried by dead men? How can they lay him out, if they are dead? How can they carry him, if they are dead? How can they bewail him, if they are dead? Yet they do lay him out, and carry, and bewail him, and they are dead; because they are unbelievers." St. Augustine.
- "Our Lord forbade the disciple to bury his father because, according to Chrysostom (Hom. xxviii in Matth.), "Our Lord by so doing saved him from many evils, such as the sorrows and worries and other things that one anticipates under these circumstances. For after the burial the will had to be read, the estate had to be divided, and so forth: but chiefly, because there were others who could see to the funeral." Or, according to Cyril's commentary on Lk. 9, "this disciple's request was, not that he might bury a dead father, but that he might support a yet living father in the latter's old age, until at length he should bury him. This is what Our Lord did not grant, because there were others, bound by the duties of kindred, to take care of him." St. Thomas Aquinas.
- "Those then, as many as they be, who have not that which saves and forms [us] into life [eternal], shall be, and shall be called, [mere] flesh and blood; for these are they who have not the Spirit of God in themselves. Wherefore men of this stamp are spoken of by the Lord as "dead;" for, says He, "Let the dead bury their dead," because they have not the Spirit which quickens man.
- 2. On the other hand, as many as fear God and trust in His Son's advent, and who through faith do establish the Spirit of God in their hearts -- such men as these shall be properly called both "pure," and "spiritual," and "those living to God," because they possess the Spirit of the Father, who purifies man, and raises him up to the life of God." St. Irenaeus of Lyons.