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What does Matthew 8

22 mean by "let the dead bury their own dead"?

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In Matthew 8:22 Matthew 8:22But Jesus said to him, Follow me; and let the dead bury their dead.
American King James Version×
Jesus said, “Follow Me, and let the dead bury their own dead.” He was responding to a request from one of His followers who asked to be excused from his responsibilities to “go and bury [his] father” (verse 21).

It might seem that he was asking to make funeral arrangements for his recently deceased father. However, he was actually asking Christ to excuse him from his spiritual responsibilities, so that he could return to live with his aging father until after his father died. Of course, that could mean the disciple would be gone for a long time. It seems he was skirting his spiritual calling and wanted Christ to give His blessing to this action.

Instead, Christ told him to focus on his calling. A better sense of Jesus' statement would be, “Don't neglect the high spiritual calling I've given you; let the spiritually dead attend to the routine tasks of life.” Certainly, Christ would not forbid the man from attending to the funeral arrangements for his father. Christ Himself went to visit the family of His friend Lazarus after Lazarus' death—even at great risk of His life (John 11:1-16 John 11:1-16 1 Now a certain man was sick, named Lazarus, of Bethany, the town of Mary and her sister Martha. 2 (It was that Mary which anointed the Lord with ointment, and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was sick.) 3 Therefore his sisters sent to him, saying, Lord, behold, he whom you love is sick. 4 When Jesus heard that, he said, This sickness is not to death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God might be glorified thereby. 5 Now Jesus loved Martha, and her sister, and Lazarus. 6 When he had heard therefore that he was sick, he stayed two days still in the same place where he was. 7 Then after that said he to his disciples, Let us go into Judaea again. 8 His disciples say to him, Master, the Jews of late sought to stone you; and go you thither again? 9 Jesus answered, Are there not twelve hours in the day? If any man walk in the day, he stumbles not, because he sees the light of this world. 10 But if a man walk in the night, he stumbles, because there is no light in him. 11 These things said he: and after that he said to them, Our friend Lazarus sleeps; but I go, that I may awake him out of sleep. 12 Then said his disciples, Lord, if he sleep, he shall do well. 13 However, Jesus spoke of his death: but they thought that he had spoken of taking of rest in sleep. 14 Then said Jesus to them plainly, Lazarus is dead. 15 And I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, to the intent you may believe; nevertheless let us go to him. 16 Then said Thomas, which is called Didymus, to his fellow disciples, Let us also go, that we may die with him.
American King James Version×
).

God wants us to care for the needs of our families (Mark 7:10-13 Mark 7:10-13 10 For Moses said, Honor your father and your mother; and, Whoever curses father or mother, let him die the death: 11 But you say, If a man shall say to his father or mother, It is Corban, that is to say, a gift, by whatever you might be profited by me; he shall be free. 12 And you suffer him no more to do ought for his father or his mother; 13 Making the word of God of none effect through your tradition, which you have delivered: and many such like things do you.
American King James Version×
; 1 Timothy 5:8 1 Timothy 5:8But if any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he has denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel.
American King James Version×
), but not to neglect our spiritual calling in the process.

For more insight, please read our booklet Transforming Your Life: The Process of Conversion .

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