Have you ever wondered what “bury the dead” means in the gospels?
It means that a person cares for his relative until death and burial.

Matthew 8:21 – “And He said to another, Follow me. But he said, Lord, let me first go away and bury my father. But Jesus said to him, Follow me, and leave the dead to bury their own dead”.

If that man’s father had just died - and it was a matter of arranging the burial - he would not then be in company with the Lord. But the expression “go away and bury my father” indicates that it was a process, a more extensive matter.

This is in a setting where discipleship to Christ was the issue. In verse 19, a scribe offered to follow Jesus wherever He went. The Lord doesn’t give encouragement to volunteers. When He does call a man, in verse 22, that man has a more pressing claim – the care of his father until his death. Notice how the man says “Lord, let me first go away and bury my father”. When we are called to serve Him, He must have the first claim.

Does that mean that we can give up our natural responsibilities when we are called to follow Christ? Not at all. We are instructed in 1 Timothy 5:8, “But if any one does not provide for those of his own, and especially for those of his house, he has denied the faith, and is worse than an unbeliever”.

What are we to do? We are to do both. We are to provide for our own family and serve the Lord who is to have the chief place. The Lord is ever the example – so, while on the cross, He arranged for the care of His mother. See John 19:26-27. His first priority was the will of God and His glory, but He also ensured that Mary was cared for in the best way.

In this instance quoted above, the man may have been making an excuse for himself. The Lord had perfect knowledge of the man’s situation. It may be that the man’s father and others (e.g. his mother) were not seriously feeble – so that they could make their own arrangements for support. Hence the Lord said: “let the dead bury their own dead” – they can care for one another.

This answer to an individual is seen in the Lord’s words. It is found in Luke 18:18-23, where the rich young ruler asked the Lord what he should do to obtain eternal life. The Lord told him to sell all that he had “and come, follow me”. He asked for something to do, so the Lord gave him something to do – more than he was prepared for. But this does not mean that every one of us has to sell all that we have and give it away. Paul writes (1 Tim. 6:17-19) to “Enjoin on those rich in the present age not to be high minded, nor to trust on the uncertainty of riches; etc.” There are times when the Lord’s words had a particular application to an individual. You and I know that eternal life is not to be earned by giving away possessions. Of course, giving is to be our habit.

Later in that chapter (Luke 18:38) the blind man asked for mercy, so the Lord extended His mercy to him.

Corban. This leads to another part of Scripture that may be hard to understand. In Mark 7:11-13, the Lord says to the Pharisees and scribes, “But ye say, If a man say to his father or mother, It is corban (that is, gift) whatsoever thou mightest have profit from me by… And ye no longer let him do anything for his father or mother; making void the word of God by your traditional teaching which ye have delivered”.

Firstly, Corban was the treasury of the temple – where the gifts ended up. We are told that the Lord watched people casting their gifts into the treasury and saw how they gave. The Pharisees must have invented some rule that said that if a person gave himself to the service of the temple, he did not need to care for his parents – “and you do not let him do anything for his father or mother” (Mark 7:12). What they would have had by being cared for was not happening, so the parents would be able to say that it was their gift to the temple – corban. An enforced gift!

I’ll say it another way. Imagine that a money value could be put on the care of a son for his parents in their last years. Say for example in our times it was valued at $200,000. Due to the fact that they had to forgo that care, they had effectively given $200,000 to the temple as a gift – corban – “whatsoever thou mightest have profit from me by….”

But that was wholly contrary to the word of God, as Jesus explained. So He says to them in Mark 7:11, “But ye say…” Their traditions had set aside the word of God. It is always so when we make rules of our own.

MM January 2011