A potential disciple responded to Jesus’ command to go to the other side of the sea by saying, “let me first go and bury my father (Matthew 8:21).” We might find ourselves shocked at Jesus’ rebuttal, “Leave the dead to bury their own dead (Matthew 8:22).”
Jesus’ generation knew even more than ours that one’s obligation to one’s nuclear family ought to rank very high among a person’s obligations. Such slogans as “family first” would have sounded redundant to a society that wove that value into almost every decision. God even gave a command regarding it, “Honor thy father and thy mother (Exodus 20:12).” What is Jesus trying to tell this potential disciple? Did Jesus forget the ten commandments?
Jesus was saying to this man that his loyalty in following him ought to surpass even the most basic and foundational responsibilities in this world. Being a disciple of Jesus consists of more than turning away from bad things. It also consists of making more of Jesus than even very good things, like family.
On another level, Jesus was saying to this potential disciple that he needed to make a decision about following him today. If you are getting into a canoe, you cannot keep one foot on the dock and the other in the canoe. If you do, not only will you get nowhere, but you will also end up wet. Jesus did not want this potential disciple to delay in deciding to follow him.
Richard Wurmbrand, the name of the new convert I mentioned last week, thought it impossible to live out many of Jesus’ teachings in his Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). Shortly after he and his wife converted, they found themselves in the throws of World War II and then the terrors of Joseph Stalin in their homeland of Romania. They sheltered Jewish children during the war and reached out to their communist oppressors afterward. They were tortured and imprisoned for their faith in Christ. Later, now as a more mature Christian, Richard said, “I have seen Christians in Communist prisons with fifty pounds of chains on their feet, tortured with red-hot iron pokers, in whose throats spoonfuls of salt had been forced, being kept afterward without water, starving, whipped, suffering from cold – and praying with fervor for the Communists. This is humanly inexplicable! It is the love of Christ, which was poured out in our hearts.”
The path of discipleship can be steep, but it is worth it because Christ is worth it. He is the pearl or treasure of such value that it is worth laying aside all to get it (Matthew 13:44-46).