The offensive tweets of Jesus: “Let the dead bury their dead!”


A group of Orthodox Jewish men gather for a ceremony around a grave on the Mount of Olives. Even today, Jewish customs demand that a person be buried within hours after his or her death. William Haun photo.

Actually, Jesus never used Twitter. But if he had, “Let the dead bury their own dead” would have surely been blasted as one of the most offensive things the holy fingers had ever tapped into his holy smart phone.

You can find it about halfway through Luke’s gospel, when three people offer to follow Jesus.

Luke 9:57-62 (NASB)
As they were going along the road, someone said to Him, “I will follow You wherever You go.”
And Jesus said to him, “The foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.”
And He said to another, “Follow Me.” But he said, “Lord, permit me first to go and bury my father.”
But He said to him, “Allow the dead to bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim everywhere the kingdom of God.”
Another also said, “I will follow You, Lord; but first permit me to say good-bye to those at home.”
But Jesus said to him, “No one, after putting his hand to the plow and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.”

Let the dead bury their own dead.” Seriously, Jesus?

One new translation of the Bible tries in vain to soften the impact of what Jesus said. “Let the spiritually dead bury their own dead,” is the way the New Living Translation puts it.

What … calling the man’s father “spiritually dead” is somehow less of an insult than telling the man to skip his dad’s funeral?

Clearly, we’re missing something. Jesus wasn’t a rabbi employing a scorched-earth campaign technique to destroy his rivals or potential disciples. If Twitter had been around, I doubt Jesus would have used it. #Walkingonwater and #Wineoutofwater just doesn’t feel right.

Let’s ask an obvious question. In a culture that calls for a funeral and burial on the same day of a person’s death, why would this grieving son be talking to a rabbi at all?

The most obvious answer is that his father hadn’t yet died.

Almost certainly, the man’s father was simply aged. He might have even been sick. The father’s death was yet to come, but obviously the date of demise was closer than it once was. Or perhaps the father had already died, but the son was waiting on the one-year anniversary of the death to gather his father’s bones for placement in an ossuary. This, too, was a local custom.

The commitment of “Let me first bury my father” is a commitment so vague, it’s no commitment at all.

Following Jesus is not a part-time task. It’s an all-in commitment. It’ll occupy your time, thoughts and resources 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

This won’t work for someone who says, “I’ll follow Jesus as soon as I get my life straightened out.”

This isn’t an option for the person who says, “As soon as I finish school, I’ll be ready.”

Following Jesus isn’t for the person who wants to “one day” follow Jesus.

Let’s switch gears. Suppose a person in serious debt seeks the guidance of a financial counselor. The counselor in this illustration is the rabbi. The person in debt is the potential disciple.

“I’d like to follow you,” says the want-to-be disciple. “OK,” says the counselor, “give me all of your credit cards.”

“OK, I will … soon.”

Don’t count on it. If she’s got no plan to actually take steps to eliminate debt, change her spending habits and begin a savings program, there’s not a financial counselor in the world who can make a disciple out of a shopping addict.

The only way we could possibly make a disciple out of such a person would be to introduce new disciplines to the one who’s made a mess of things. The counselor – the rabbi – knows which disciplines are needed.

But until he gets a fully-committed follower, it’ll be impossible for the rabbi to create a success story.

Jesus is much more than a financial counselor. He’s more than a spiritual advisor, even. If he is who he said he is, he is worth giving up everything to follow.

Would Jesus really ask a disciple to miss his father’s funeral?

History is filled with people who followed Jesus to remote locations of the world, where they stayed for several years. Some them, indeed, missed some of the most important family events of their lifetimes. Funerals, weddings, birthdays, anniversaries, family vacations …

They gave it all up for the sweet privilege of following Jesus.

You want to follow Jesus? Then let the dead bury their own dead. Your job … is to follow.