Another Sabbath morning, and Sheba and I head to our peaceful mountain top. The sunrise is incredible, hues of pinks, blues and oranges softened by the morning mist that hovers over the valley. From the top, I can look across the Susquehanna River valley that lazily twists and turns weaving through my little town of Owego. As always, I am singing and having conversations with the Lord. I am always expectant to see His glory of creation. Never knowing what we are to talk about today. As I head around a turn, I hear, “let the dead bury their dead.” I look around the cemetery and see stone obelisks, headstones and statues of people long dead. I mull over what He is trying to teach me……Matthew 8:21-22
Another disciple said to him, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” 22 But Jesus told him, “Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead.”
Jesus then proceeded to get into the boat. Not much is said about this statement. Jesus is on to the next teaching. Yet many will say it is spiritual, like the “spiritually dead”. “Leave them,” he said, and this may be so, but the Lord was trying to teach me something deeper. Many times as Christ followers we take scripture out of context or “cherry pick” a verse to fit our situation. I knew that there was more to this. In order to give the bible context, we really need to study the times and culture of 1st century Israel, in particular, their burial practices. When a person died, the body was placed in a carved limestone tomb. This was the initial burial. A year later, once the body had fully decomposed, a second more elaborate burial happened. The whole family would return and “gather the bones of their ancestors” and place them with the other members on a different shelf or on the floor. Unfortunately, Greek and Roman culture had influenced the second burial. It had become more elaborate, more costly as the Israelite adopted the ceremony of placing the bones in an “ossuary” or bone box with the deceased members name written on it. This “secondary burial” called for a day of fasting in the morning and feasting in the afternoon. So now burying the dead had obtained a ceremonial status, much like children’s birthday parties have become today. As in your non-Christ following family member that cannot understand how you could miss little Timmy’s birthday party to go on a mission trip. You hear “but you can’t miss the birthday party!”
All that being said, Jesus came to do the Father’s will. When you start to really seek who God is and know in your heart and by His word, that He is the same, yesterday, today and forever…..you know Jesus would never transgress the 5th commandment and not “honor your father and mother.” As I search the scriptures (Berean style and historical records), I believe Jesus was talking about the second burial (full of man made customs, expenses and adornments), the disciple would have been expected at the family gathering and if we look at the very next line of scripture, “Then he (Jesus) got into the boat and his disciples followed him.” Jesus knew that disciple would “miss the boat” literally and His next lesson. As my “lesson” concluded, in His true nature and goodness, I was walking back in town over the railroad tracks and looked up. There were my deer, our eyes locked and I heard Him say, “keep following me and you will find me.” With that, the deer headed to the river.
And that is what He says to all of us. That means, Jesus came to do God’s will, those commandments are for now and forever (the 5th commandment still stands). Man made rituals are just that and have nothing to do with the scriptures and only serve to draw us away from God’s best. However, God gave us freewill and the choice is ours. What is your choice? Will you seek the scriptures and seek Him with all your heart?