“Follow me, and let the dead bury the dead.”
Subsequent to Matthew’s report of three healing miracles in chapter 8, he includes the brief stories of two quite different men with dissimilar levels of interest in following Jesus. The insertion of instruction on discipleship into the miracle narratives points to the fact that faith in Jesus must be united with discipleship. Jesus did something deeper than heal – He made disciples. A string of accounts about healings with no teaching in between, might give the impression that Christ and His church’s main mission is the social ministry of healing, comfort and consolation. While this certainly is one occupation of the body of Christ in society, this function flows out of the central objective of being and making disciples. This does not mean that we abandon physical concerns, as Jesus did not abandon the physical needs of people; but like Jesus, we are to reach beneath the physical need to it source.
First we read of a zealous scholar who makes a remarkable, resolute, ready, and unreserved offer to follow Jesus wherever he goes. The only thing more remarkable was Jesus’ response to him, which seems to be opposite from what we might expect from someone recruiting followers. He tells the man, “the Son of man has nowhere to lay His head;” whatever one thinks of this reply, it is far from an enthusiastic exhortation for the man to follow.
In contrast to the zealous scholar, a second man, “a timid son,” expresses a less-than-enthusiastic desire to follow Jesus, after he first buries his father. At first sight this appears to be a very legitimate priority; and that’s the point – that NOTHING – even the most legitimate of matters – ought to take priority over following Jesus. Rather than discouraging him, Jesus summons this timid son with a strong exhortation to forsake his familial obligation and follow Him.
There is something deeply significant in both of Jesus’ replies; they show us that people who desire to follow Jesus ought to be warned plainly to count the cost before they begin to follow. In our day, thousands of church members are never warned of the cost, perhaps out of fear of scaring away potential disciples. Nothing has done more harm to the church than the practice of filling our pews with professors who have joined our ranks under a false pretense of glory without a cross. The cost of discipleship must be included in our presentation of the gospel. Let us keep nothing back from new believers; let us tell them plainly of the glorious destination; but no less plainly of the cross they must bear on the way.