TRANSLATION MATTHEW 8: 18
Now Jesus, seeing large crowds surrounding him, ordered them to go off to the other side of the lake. A Bible scholar approached him, saying, “Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.” But Jesus told him, “Foxes have lairs and the birds of the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.”
Then one of his pupils said to him, “Master, give me leave to go and bury my father.” But Jesus told him, “Follow me and let the dead bury their dead!”
If Jesus, like a modern politician, had been allocated a PR man, this is where the latter would have resigned, tearing his hair, “You have an unlikely platform so it’s always going to be tricky, but when you get expressions of interest, you abuse them!“
Of all impulses, Jesus is most suspicious of a religious reaction to his message. In a society where religion and its representatives had an honoured place, he knew how easily religion could absorb and disarm his ministry. In this case he detects first of all a false fervour which has not counted the cost of being his pupil. In the second instance he recognises how a religious and familial duty can be used to cover up a refusal of his demands.
I’ve been guilty of both of these in my time, so I can bear witness to Jesus’ realism. Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s experience of ways of evading the call of Jesus led him to promulgate the concept of “cheap grace” operative in the comfy Christianity of his time and place. God’s grace in Jesus is freely given, but receiving it is costly.
Jesus’ words to the apparently bereaved disciple are savage, doubtless because he detects some falsehood: anyone dealing with a family death would not have been listening to Jesus’ teaching but would have been making arrangements for a burial within a day. Or perhaps the death has not happened but is expected? Then why is he not at his father’s side? Even so, Jesus is harsh. It may be that the phrase about the dead burying the dead is a colloquial way of saying, ‘That business can take care of itself,’ but it remains a very pointed and offensive dismissal of one of the fundamental duties of Jewish religion. But after all, there are things that are more important than a funeral, and Jesus saw his shared ministry as one of them.
The phrase ‘Son of Man’ is used by Jesus in three ways according to the first three gospel writers:
1. As referring to a divine agent coming to judge humanity at the end of the age.
2. As referring to himself in his ministry.
3. Possibly, as referring to a ‘mere mortal’ – a use which can be found in Ezekiel.
The first two are important and apparently contradictory; but if they both, as seems likely, originate in Daniel 7, then I think they can be reconciled. In that chapter, the prophet sees a vision of four kingdoms, the first three personified by animals and the fourth by ‘one like a son of man’. This symbolism suggests three savage kingdoms followed by a humane one. I suggest that the personified Son of Man became in Jewish speculation the bringer of the new age and therefore the judge of those who would enter it; and at the same time, for Jesus, the one who was bringing the new age now, in his ministry. As the figure is a personification, it may refer to a group or community rather than an historical person. I guess that when Jesus used it, he included his followers in the phrase; he with them, was bringing in the kingdom; he with them and all God’ saints might act in judgement at the end of the age. This is a very brief note on a classic New Testament issue which has aroused millions of words by the ablest scholars. From what I have read, the above are my conclusions.