I recently read a book about some missionaries in Japan. In that book, the author mentions that due to the expense of traveling to the US and their commitment to their ministry they were not able to return home for the funerals of either of their parents. I can’t imagine how heart wrenching that must have been. However, while they did express sorrow there was no bitterness or resentment. They had resigned themselves to serving God where He had called them no matter what the cost. To be sure, they had counted that cost, the cost of being a disciple, and were able and willing to pay that price. As we observe in these two verses recorded in Matthew, Jesus lays out very plainly the cost of discipleship and tells us that the call overrides any other human relationship.
Again, as Jesus is walking to a boat to go to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, another unnamed disciple asks for permission to bury his father before following Christ. At this point, Christ may have spent some time in the area and this was a local guy who was near enough to home that he could be a disciple of Christ and still be home with his family. With Christ looking to leave the area, the man had a choice to make.
The text doesn’t say, as far as I can tell, how imminent this burial was. The Greek verb for “bury” is in the aorist tense which is completely Greek to me anyway so it’s not like the man is clearly asking “Let me go bury my father today” as if it were something he needed to take care of in a few days or so. The other option, and I believe the more plausible one, is that he was asking to wait and follow Christ after his father had passed away. One could spend fruitless hours in endless speculation as to why he might have wanted to wait like that. Perhaps his father was a strictly devout Jew who bought into the works based righteousness of the religious leaders and would be scandalized to have a son following this Carpenter around the Judean countryside. Perhaps his father needed his help in the family business. We are not told the reason and in the end it really doesn’t matter. Jesus lays it out for this disciple very clearly.
Following Christ will not be popular with people, particularly with our family sometimes. In fact, it may be that we have to come to a choice one day between our loyalty to our family and our loyalty to Christ. We may find, as my friend who served with her husband and family as missionaries to Japan, that we will miss out on important life events such as funerals because of our commitment to the Lord. The call to discipleship is the call to place everything in a lower priority when compared to serving Christ.
Not all of us will be called to leave our families but all of us should be willing to make whatever sacrifices necessary to serve God where He has called us—our obedience demonstrates the genuineness of our faith. May we all show ourselves to be obedient followers of Jesus.