Summary: So how does our loving saviour and Lord get away with saying "Forget about burying your father. Just follow Me now!" How unsympathetic! How insensitive! Give the man a break. Let him bury his own father! What is going on here?
Part 12 - Matthew 8:18-22 - HOW CAN JESUS BE SO CALLOUS?
My Dad died of cancer in a nursing home. He was in a partial coma when I visited him before that day came. We had come down from Queensland to Wagga Wagga, his birthplace. I was wondering where he was in terms of his relationship with Christ. And yes, the thought crossed my mind as to where he would be going when he died. Would he be going to hell? And how would I share with him now?
As I stood in the room by his bed, Julie suggested that I sing to him. I began to sing softly the hymn "How great Thou art". (I had given him a tape (before CDs came into being) of me singing a number of Christian songs that I thought might speak to him. Afterwards my mum told me that he used to play this tape a lot). As I stood there by the bed, I sensed the presence of God fall, and my father began singing from somewhere in the depths of his coma "How great Thou art! How great Thou art!" He couldn't communicate to me, but he could sing! And all I could do was watch and sing in amazement as tears flowed down his face.
I was there for quite some time in a quandary as to what all this meant, when a nurse came in and saw my expression and his tears. She said "You know that your Dad has accepted Christ as His personal Saviour, love, don't you?" I wept.
In Matthew 8:21-22, before Jesus crosses over the lake to confront and expel demons, not only does a scribe come to Him, but also "another of His disciples" comes and says "Lord, first let me return home and bury my father." But Jesus told him, "Follow Me now. Let the spiritually dead bury their own dead." (Matthew 8:21-22)
I wonder if Jesus knew how callous that sounded? I guess He did. WAS HE REALLY TELLING THIS MAN NOT TO ATTEND TO HIS OWN FATHER'S FUNERAL? Jesus does and says things that are so totally off the wall at times! Man, what if he had said that to me? I'd want to bury my father first, too. Wouldn't you? You need some kind of closure when someone dies. Jesus doesn't seem to understand that. Or does He? Well, surely He does.
So how does our loving saviour and Lord get away with saying "Forget about burying your father. Just follow Me now!" How unsympathetic! How insensitive! Give the man a break. Let him bury his own father! What is going on here?
In Luke 14:26-27 Jesus sounds just as callous when He says "If you want to be My disciple, you must hate everyone else by comparison-your father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters-yes, even your own life. Otherwise, you cannot be My disciple."
Somehow I don't really think that Jesus is being callous. I believe that this is a form of Jesus using what we call graphic hyperbole (obvious and intentional exaggeration) to get His point across. This was a common way of teaching in those times. He exaggerates something in order to show how important is. And it must be important for Him to say it in this way.
You may remember in Matthew 5:29-30 (NLT) He says "So if your eye-even your good eye-causes you to lust, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your hand-even your stronger hand-causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell."
OK, so how gross is that picture? Sure, He's not being literal but don't water this down! This is important! He is saying "decide ahead of time not to feed lust!" Jesus is saying that what we focus on determines our actions. Jokes, movies, and magazines can give our senses permission to feed lust.
Obviously, Jesus is not advocating self mutilation to deal with lust. That would not actually solve the problem of a man's thoughts anyway. So what is He saying to me and you? He is saying "Deal with the cause! Take whatever action is necessary so that you don't stumble in this area. Don't indulge sinful patterns of thinking."
So let's get back to Matthew 8:22. This man came with a valid reason to hold things off in terms of following Jesus. JESUS USES IT TO SHOW HIM THAT NOT EVEN A DEATH IN HIS FAMILY SHOULD STOP HIM FROM FOLLOWING HIM.
Whether this man goes back to bury his father is not the point. FOLLOWING JESUS NO MATTER WHAT YOUR CIRCUMSTANCES ARE IS THE POINT HE IS MAKING.