September 28, 2011 - Wednesday of the Twenty-Sixth Week in Ordinary Time

Today's Readings

Jesus tells someone, “Follow me.” The man asks permission to go bury his father first. Does he mean “Lord, give me a few days. My father just died.” or does he mean “Lord, let me go home until my father dies someday and I bury him.”? This second possibility is not so strange. I know many people who have plans for their life which they will not begin until their parents die. I know a woman who wanted to become Catholic for 60 years, and finally joined the Church at age 70 when her mother died.

The problem with this interpretation is that Jesus was going to Jerusalem for the Passover feast. So were hundreds of thousands of Jews, surely including the man’s father if he were alive and well. We have no reason to suppose, and several reasons to doubt, that the disciples never saw their families once they started following Jesus. I think that the man’s father had just died or maybe was about to die, and he is telling Jesus that he will not be going to Passover since he has to bury his father.

Jesus says, “Let the dead bury their dead”, which is literally impossible. Dead people cannot bury someone; dead people cannot do anything. Many people interpret the sentence to mean, “Let those who are spiritually dead bury the physically dead people.” Perhaps this sounds profound at first, but the closer one considers this interpretation the stupider it seems. When everyone is a Christian, will the dead bodies just start piling up? I am very strongly of the opinion that Jesus did not say stupid things, and this is stupid. Moreover, it would make Jesus a hypocrite, since he was buried by some of his closest disciples. Burial is a good thing; it is a work of mercy. Jesus was not condemning the practice. Indeed, he is encouraging it.

I think that “dead” here means both those who have died and those who are going to die. In this sense it refers to all of us. We are all going to die. A hundred years from now, or maybe more, we will all be dead. The man asks permission to leave to perform a work of mercy, so Jesus agrees and sends him away, he says “go” not “come”. Jesus’ response could be expanded and rephrased this way, “Truly those who are going to die ought to bury those who have died. Go and bury your father, and preach the Kingdom of God when you get there."