Matthew introduces us to two potential disciples. One says: “I will follow Jesus if it pays off now.” The other says: “Now is paying off, I’ll follow Jesus later.” The opportunity to decide to follow Jesus is now. One day it will be too late.
When Jesus heals miraculously, several things happen at once:
- An individual exercises faith in Jesus by seeking him for healing before the miracle.
- The miracle testifies that God has given Jesus His authority.
- The miracle confronts watchers and listeners with the need to respond in faith.
- The miracle is a specific act of mercy and compassion for an individual.
- The miracle symbolically reminds us why Jesus, the Messiah, came.
Matthew has been speaking about the authority of Jesus and then we get this short section on discipleship, which still relates the question of Jesus’ authority..
18Now when Jesus saw a crowd around him, he gave orders to go over to the other side. 19And a scribe came up and said to him, “Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.” 20And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” – Matthew 8:18-20
Scribes made a profession of studying the Old Testament Law. All scribes were Pharisees, but not all Pharisees were scribes.
This scribe sees Jesus getting ready to leave and asks to follow him as his disciple.
Foxes and birds find a home in this world and fulfill their purpose in it. By contrast, the Messiah will find his fulfillment in the age to come.
As a student of the Old Testament, this scribe is intrigued that Jesus might be the Messiah. The scribe probably hopes to be by Jesus’ side when he sits on David’s throne.
The scribe is correct that one day Jesus as the Messiah will rule from David’s throne. But first the world is going to reject and execute Jesus.
Jesus is cryptically saying something like: “You may think you are joining a movement where I will take my rightful place as king and you’ll be with me. But I have no place in this world. If you’re looking for someone to teach you how to find power and fulfillment in this world, I’m not your rabbi. This world will hate you if you truly follow me.”
21Another of the disciples said to him, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” 22And Jesus said to him, “Follow me, and leave the dead to bury their own dead.” – Matthew 8:21-22
Scholars have proposed several theories for what this potential disciple is asking:
A) His father just died and he’ll join Jesus next week after the funeral. Scholars who opt for this understanding take Jesus’ response as hyperbole to make a point about the priority of discipleship.
B) After the bones had decayed for a year in a tomb, they were collected and put in an ossuary. The disciple could be asking to wait until after this “second burial.” Scholars who opt for this see Jesus’ saying discipleship needs to take priority over all cultural practices.
C) His father has not yet died. “Let me bury my father” is an idiom for when I’m retired and have completed all my responsibilities. This means the disciple is basically saying I’m too busy now to follow you.
With option C, Jesus responds something like: If you don’t follow me, you are choosing to stay among those who are spiritually dead. Let those who have chosen the world over me care for themselves.
The common ground between these options is the need to choose to follow Jesus rather than this world. One is saying I will follow Jesus if it pays off now. The other is saying now is paying off so I’ll deal with Jesus later.
The opportunity to decide to follow Jesus is now and one day it will be too late.
61Another also said, “I will follow You, Lord; but first permit me to say good-bye to those at home.” 62But Jesus said to him, “No one, after putting his hand to the plow and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.” – Luke 9:61-62
Luke adds a third story in his account.
The phrase translated “say goodbye” is translated “take leave of” everywhere else (Mark 6:46; Acts 18:18; Acts 18:21; 2Cor 2:13). It carries the idea of getting permission to leave. The person leaving politely requests permission to leave (“by your leave”) and the ones remaining politely grant permission (“go in peace”).
This potential disciple is asking to return home and get his parent’s permission to follow Jesus, because he assumes his father’s authority trumps the authority of Jesus.
Plowing required concentrated and dedicated attention. If you looked back, the furrow became crooked.
Jesus is saying, like the plowman you can’t look back at the road not taken. There is no authority higher than Jesus.
Please listen to the podcast for more detail and explanation.
Podcast season 20, episode 3