The Cost of Discipleship

Another of the disciples said to him, ‘Lord, let me first go and bury my father.’  And Jesus said to him, ‘Follow me, and leave the dead to bury their own dead’” (vv. 21–22).  

- Matthew 8:18–22

A great crowd gathers about Christ as His acclaim spreads in Capernaum, and He prepares to cross the sea of Galilee (Matt. 8:18). We are not certain why He makes this move, but many interpreters believe Jesus is seeking rest. After all, He is found asleep in the episode following today’s passage (v. 24).

Seeing that our Savior is about to depart, a scribe trained in the law of Moses expresses His desire to follow Jesus wherever He goes (v. 19). Christ does not turn this would-be disciple away, but He explains to this scholar the cost of discipleship. Following Jesus, the scribe learns, might even entail the loss of a permanent home (v. 20). The Redeemer’s people must accept that they are strangers and exiles in this present world (Heb. 11:13–16). In Christ we will one day rule over all (2 Tim. 2:12a), but the Christian life, as the church father Tertullian says, is a call to follow the Lord’s pattern: “He walked in humility and obscurity. He had no definite home. …He is unadorned as to dress. He exercised no right of power even over his own followers. …Though conscious of his own kingdom, he shrank back from being made a king” (On Idolatry, 18.4–5).

Like Jesus, we must be willing to tell people that there is a cost to following the Savior. We do not help the non-believer if we teach or imply that Jesus can be folded into the fabric of our lives without the world hating us (Matt. 24:9).

Even family duties take second place when Jesus calls. After speaking to the scribe, another man says he is willing to follow Christ if he can first go bury His father. Yet Jesus allows no hesitation (8:21—22). This is a difficult saying, since Scripture tells us to honor our parents (Ex. 20:12), but it is likely that our Lord’s reply to the dead man’s son is a universal principle, not a universal application. Jesus alone deserves our supreme devotion, but the ways in which this principle is applied may vary. John Calvin comments, “Children should discharge their duty to their parents in such a manner that, whenever God calls them to another employment, they should lay this aside, and assign the first place to the command of God. Whatever duties we owe to men must give way, when God enjoins upon us what is immediately due to himself.”

Coram Deo

John Chrysostom comments on today’s passage that Jesus would not have us “think lightly of the honor due to parents.” His words only signify “that nothing ought to be to us more urgent than the affairs of the kingdom of heaven” (Homilies on the Gospel of Saint Matthew, 27.3). It can be hard to know how to honor one’s parents and follow Jesus, but let us remember that His will alone deserves our undivided submission.

Passages for Further Study

Exodus 20:3
1 Thess. 1:2–10

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