“Let the dead bury their own dead,” said Jesus, “but you go and proclaim the Kingdom of God.” Luke 9:60 (New International Version of the Holy Bible)
How could Jesus tell his disciples that the dead should be left to bury themselves? With this and many other questions, biblical scholars and preachers have tried to resolve this harsh teaching.
An understanding of Jewish burial rites might help. Reportedly, there were two burials observed during Jesus’ era. The first rite was to place the body in a cave for decomposition and the latter was to gather the bones to put in a bone jar (ossuary) after the body was eaten away.
Knowing this, it makes sense to see Jesus’ statement as a reality check. He merely pointed out that once put in the cave, the body would decompose all on its own. It didn’t need to be watched and prayed over. The dead will “bury” themselves in their decomposition. In the meantime, there is the work of living to be done.
This could be interpreted as a radical affirmation of life. A radical living being would point out that if life has any value over being dead, why would any life energy be spent on issues of death? Do we really need to agonize over the dead to be fully alive? Can the memories and prayers of the living bring the dead back? Will our monuments to them keep them or us alive? What does life have to do with un-life except to place barriers in the way of living?
Yes, I know that Jesus died. And the record indicates that he accepted his assignment to die. But the record also shows that during his time on earth, he did not talk about his coming death (except cryptically). Instead, he healed. He challenged corruption. He inspired. He fed people. He gave to the poor. He taught that there was a better way. He did not judge “sinners,” but forgave them.
What did he teach us about death? He said, “Take up your cross and follow me.” This did not mean to die like he did. It meant to take our life’s challenges and do like he did… heal, challenge corruption, inspire, feed, give to the needy, teach the better way, and forgive others, in spite of obstacles and the dire predictions of our demise.