In Matthew 8.19-21, two disciples of Christ are set in contrast to one another.
The first, a single scribe. The text accentuates the uniqueness of the situation — one scribe. Few among the list of his disciples were of the scribal class.
Yet, this particular scribe expresses a willingness to “follow” the Lord “wherever” he went. But was he prepared to relinquish the refined life for the coarser? The Lord warned him of that possibility — “the son of man has nowhere to lay his head” (v. 20). Still, the scribe conveys no hesitation in his promise, nor exception to his rule.
The second man, however, was a “disciple” of a “different” (heteros) variety. At the moment, his desire to follow the Lord was curtailed by an earthly concern. “Lord, let me first go and bury my father” (v. 21).
Jesus declined his request, saying: “Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead” (v. 22). What does Jesus mean, and why would he say this? Consider:
First, the world contains more than its fair share of spiritually-dead people, who can tend to the burial needs of those who have physically died. For now, the disciple is needed elsewhere (see Lk. 9.60).
This highlights an age-old principle: God uses the unrighteous, whether they act morally (as here, in burying the deceased) or immorally, to benefit the righteous (cf. Rm. 11.30-33; Ecc. 2.26; Job 27.16-17; Prov. 28.8). Disciples have their uses, the spiritually dead have theirs.
Second, loving and caring for one’s family is of great importance (cf. Eph. 5.25; 1 Tim. 5.18), and burying a loved one is, of itself, a perfectly virtuous endeavor.
However, when the commands of Christ are incongruous with such social matters — even those near and dear to the heart — the Lord’s will must take precedence (cf. Mt. 6.33). The Lord and his kingdom must be of higher priority than kith and kin (Mt. 10.37).
This “study in contrasts” continues to this day. Some disciples are “all in” for the savior. Others, although desirous to participate in the benefits of discipleship, are nonetheless of a “different” class, still in need of making a full commitment.
Where do you stand?