Why did Jesus say to let the dead bury the dead?


When I read Matthew 8:21-22, I felt quite confused. It says " And another of his disciples said unto him, Lord, suffer me first to go and bury my father. But Jesus said unto him, Follow me; and let the dead bury their dead." What does this mean? I think "honor your parents" is one of the ten commands, and it is mentioned again in the New Testament. And I do not think leave one's dead father alone is "honor your parents". How can we explain verse 22? And what should we do if our parents passed away?

Your help will be much appreciated, thanks a lot!


Since dead people can't bury dead people, this is your first clue that figurative language is being used. If you think for a moment, you then realize that the Bible speaks of two types of "dead:" the physically dead (Ephesians 1:20) and the spiritually dead (Ephesians 2:1-5). Reading this as the physically dead burying the physically dead, or the spiritually dead burying the spiritually dead doesn't make sense. However, reading it as "Follow Me, and let the [spiritually] dead bury their own [physically] dead," makes sense. The point being made is about priorities.

Another problem you are having with this passage is talking a statement that directly applies to a person 2,000 years ago and thinking that it directly and literally applies to you. At the time the statement was made, Jesus Christ, God in the flesh, was walking among men and living with them. Here was a man who was invited by the Son of God to join him as one of his special followers, and what does this man do? He puts the funeral of his father before obeying Jesus. As Jesus pointed out, the physically dead don't care who buries them, so let those who are spiritually dead take care of that task. At this moment in time, this man had a unique and important opportunity that should not be wasted.

This is not a passage telling Christians not to bother about funerals for their loved ones. It is a passage about priorities and excuses. Far too many people want a religion of convenience. I've lost track of the number of silly excuses people tell me about why they can't obey God. I've been told that

  • they can't come to worship because they have school on Monday and have homework to do (yet they can make the football game or they will be seen at the grocery store that same day),
  • their car needed new tires (yet they have two cars and plenty of people willing to give them rides to service if they needed one),
  • they had a fight with their spouse,
  • they had company, etc.

What is more important to them? In every case, they don't offer those same excuses to their bosses at work (not if they plan to stay employed), but they think it acceptable to offer them to God. So where are their priorities?

That is what you should think about. If you had a once in a lifetime opportunity to spend time with God, would other things demand your attention first? Would you ask God to wait a bit and then you'll get to Him?

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