I heard the following story about 20 years ago. It may or may not be true, but it provides a good intro for this article.
In the late 1990s, the most popular play on Broadway was the stage adaptation of Disney’s “The Lion King.” It was very difficult to get tickets for the play — every show was sold out.
One day, two women who were attending the play had an empty seat between them. One of the women commented to the other how odd it was that someone would not show up for the play, considering how difficult it was to get tickets. The second woman replied, “That seat was for my husband, but he’s passed away now.”
“Oh, I’m so sorry!” said the first woman, “but couldn’t you have invited someone else to come with you to the show?” “I thought about that,” said the second woman, “but everyone I know is at the funeral today.”
Of course, it’s outrageous to think that someone would choose to go to a Broadway show rather than her husband’s funeral. However, if that story is true, what it means is that the woman really, really wanted to go to the show. It was so important to her that she would permit nothing else to interfere with doing that.
If you substitute “the calling of the Lord” for the Broadway show in the above story, then it becomes clear what is expected of us when we have been called by God to do something. Whatever it is that God has called us to do should be so important to us that we will permit nothing else to interfere or come before that.
This is the point that Jesus is trying to get across in Matthew 8 and Luke 9 when He calls a particular man to become a preacher of the gospel and the man’s immediate reply is, “Lord, suffer me first to go and bury my father. Jesus said unto him, Let the dead bury their dead: but go thou and preach the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:59-60).
Some might think it harsh or insensitive for Jesus to tell the man not to attend his father’s funeral. That type of commandment probably wouldn’t sit well with most of us today. After all, attending the funeral of a loved one is very important to us. And what could be so urgent that it can’t wait a few days? However, consider the following to understand why Jesus would say this to the man:
- At the time of Jesus, the funeral process required considerably more time than today — weeks, months, even up to a year by the time everything was taken care of.
- It’s even possible that the man’s father hadn’t died yet. Perhaps he was elderly and the man wanted to delay following Jesus indefinitely until his father had passed away and was buried.
However, regardless of whether we’re talking about a delay of a few days, a few months, or a few years, it doesn’t matter. If the Lord is calling us to do something and He says to do it today, then that means it needs to be done today. Now, this is not to say that everything that the Lord directs us to do carries that level of urgency — we usually have some flexibility — but, in general, let’s not get in the habit of telling God that His assignments need to wait until we take care of our own stuff first.
People who have chosen to not follow the Lord (the “spiritually dead”) aren’t concerned with what God wants them to do. So, they can do their own thing — burying their dead or whatever — whenever they want to. When Jesus told the man, “Let the dead bury their dead,” He was cautioning him against thinking like the spiritually dead and not recognizing the glorious opportunity being presented to follow Jesus while He was on earth.
We who have recognized the glorious opportunity to follow Christ must understand that we are not in charge of our own agendas — we take our direction from the Lord. Don’t worry — it’s highly unlikely that He’ll tell you to skip your father’s funeral. But if we’re blessed enough to receive an urgent assignment from Him, let’s be ready to go (even if it means skipping a popular Broadway show).
This article has undergone ministry review and approval.