When Jesus saw the crowd around him, he gave orders to cross to the other side of the lake. Then a teacher of the law came to him and said, “Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.”
Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.”
Another disciple said to him, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.”
But Jesus told him, “Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead.”
Doesn’t this sound a little harsh? Even uncaring? Why does Jesus pour such cold water on the aspirations of these potential disciples?
Based on everything we know of him in the Gospels, I am convinced that Jesus is not brash, uncaring, lacking in compassion, nor is he a whip-cracking taskmaster who squelches the first beginnings of faith. We know him as the one who came to seek and to save the lost, who said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened” (Matthew 11:28), and of whom Isaiah prophesied, “A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out” (Isaiah 42:3).
So, what’s going on here?
Several observations help:
(1) It’s clear Jesus wants his followers to understand that commitment is costly. That’s his main point. His words cause these men to catch their breath, step back, take a focused look, and clarify if they truly want to follow or not.
(2) The first man (“a teacher of the law”) has all of the enthusiasm and bravado of Simon Peter, who, at the Last Supper, told Jesus, “Even if all fall away on account of you, I never will” (Matthew 26:33). We know how that worked out. His passionate assertion was much stronger than reality. Perhaps Jesus knew the same was true of this “teacher of the law.”
(3) Peter’s denial was not the end of the story. Forgiveness and restoration followed. What about this teacher of the law? We don’t know how his story ended, but Jesus’ words are not a closed door.
(4) Later, when dealing with the rich young ruler, Jesus gave specific instruction beyond that given to others: “Go, sell your possessions … Then come, follow me” (Matthew 19:21). He put his finger on the key issue in the young man’s life. Perhaps something similar needed to be addressed for this teacher of the law.
(5) Jesus’ words to the second man seem more harsh. But they are in line with a statement he will make later: “Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me” (Matthew 10:37). Allegiance to him needs to come first, even above the closest human relationships. He’s pressing the issue home, literally.
(6) When the Canaanite woman requested healing for her daughter, Jesus gave her push-back, seeking to test her faith, like gold in the fire. She came through with increased strength and determination. How about these men? How did they respond? Jesus pointedly seeks to deepen their commitment. Did they come through?
And what about us? Have we entered into discipleship lightly? Are we embracing the cost, setting aside distractions, following Jesus closely, yielding him the central place above all else?
How do we respond?
Lord Jesus, I confess that I can too easily press past these questions, unfazed. Press the issue home. Soften my heart to hear your challenge, then strengthen it to respond with new devotion. To your glory.
Reflect: As you pray, listen to the Lord. Is there any aspect of commitment that needs to be sharpened? What steps do you need to take?
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