“Leave the dead to bury their own dead.”
I don’t know about you, but whenever I hear this verse I get all indignant and think, Where is your compassion, Jesus?! This man just lost his father! Don’t you care?!?
Technically, his father may have passed away some time before; many scholars believe today’s gospel referenced the tradition of a second burial (waiting until the deceased had been in the tomb long enough that the family could collect and re-bury the bare bones). Thus it could have been months or over a year before the man was “free” to follow Jesus.
Still, it seems Jesus is rather insensitive to a pretty darn reasonable request, no?
In reality, I think Jesus is trying to demonstrate the radical detachment we need to have, whenever it is that He happens to call us. It won’t work for us to dictate the “right” time, or place, or stage of life before we’re ready to put God first. He wants us to learn that whether it’s “convenient” or not, nothing—nothing—is more important than Him right now.
The drastic examples in today’s Gospel show us that it’s easy for us to say our priorities are properly ordered, but infinitely more challenging to live it out. In practice, putting God first (before family and neighbor and material goods), would mean happily giving up those lesser priorities for Him right now if He asked. Isn’t it much easier, though, to look at our list of priorities and slip God in where it best suits our agenda?
But the further reality is this: Jesus doesn’t ask us to do such things for His benefit; He wants us to put Him above our important events and relationships for our own good. Because in choosing God above all else, it becomes clear that His call is not one that separates us further, but unites us—and in a manner more complete than we could ever attain through our own agendas.
Saint Therese of Lisieux, whose Memorial is today, had an incredibly firm grasp on Jesus’s lesson in self-denial. She recognizes in her own little way that choosing God’s will above our own is not an easy teaching . . . .
“Ah! How contrary are the teachings of Jesus to the feelings of nature! Without the help of His grace it would be impossible not only to put them into practice, but to even understand them.”
. . . but if we can unite our will with God’s, Saint Therese reminds us of the potential to be infinitely happy:
“In Heaven the good God will do all I wish, because I have never done my own will upon earth.”
So with Saint Therese as our example, let us make God our highest priority in all of today’s moments. Let’s try to unite our will with His as we pray the words that Jesus himself uttered to the heavens:
“Not my will, but Yours. Thy will be done on Earth as it is in heaven.”
Megan Hjelmstad is a wife, mom, writer and former soldier whose real passion is equal parts faith and chocolate. You can find out more about her here.