Matthew 8:21
And another of his disciples said to him, Lord, suffer me first to go and bury my father.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(21) Suffer me first to go and bury my father.—A curious tradition, preserved by Clement of Alexandria, says that the disciple who came with this request was Philip. Nothing in the Gospel history, however, suggests this. Philip had been called before, and had obeyed the call (John 1:43). All that we can say is that it may have been so, and that he may at this stage of his spiritual growth have shrunk from the fresh activity of actual service in the work of evangelising. The form of the petition may mean either (1) that his father was then actually dead, and that the disciple asked leave to remain and pay the last honours to his remains, or (2) that he asked to remain with his father till his death. The latter seems by far the most probable. In the East burial followed so immediately on death that the former would hardly have involved more than the delay of a few hours. In the latter case the request was, in fact, a plea for indefinite postponement. This at least fits in best with the apparent severity of our Lord’s answer.

Matthew 8:21-22. And another said, Lord, &c. — Luke informs us, Luke 9:59, that Christ had said to this man, Follow me, to which command he replied, as is here stated, Lord, suffer me first to go and bury my father — His meaning seems to be, Suffer me to continue at home with my father, who is far advanced in years, till I have performed the last filial office to him, in committing his body to the dust: for it does not appear that his father was already dead. But Jesus said, Follow me — Namely, immediately; and let the dead bury their dead — Let such as are dead in sin, spiritually dead, being insensible to the concerns of their souls and eternity, employ themselves in interring their deceased relatives and friends: or, leave the business of the world to those that are alive to it, and dead to God and things divine.8:18-22 One of the scribes was too hasty in promising; he proffers himself to be a close follower of Christ. He seems to be very resolute. Many resolutions for religion are produced by sudden conviction, and taken up without due consideration; these come to nothing. When this scribe offered to follow Christ, one would think he should have been encouraged; one scribe might do more credit and service than twelve fishermen; but Christ saw his heart, and answered to its thoughts, and therein teaches all how to come to Christ. His resolve seems to have been from a worldly, covetous principle; but Christ had not a place to lay his head on, and if he follows him, he must not expect to fare better than he fared. We have reason to think this scribe went away. Another was too slow. Delay in doing is as bad on the one hand, as hastiness in resolving is on the other. He asked leave to attend his father to his grave, and then he would be at Christ's service. This seemed reasonable, yet it was not right. He had not true zeal for the work. Burying the dead, especially a dead father, is a good work, but it is not thy work at this time. If Christ requires our service, affection even for the nearest and dearest relatives, and for things otherwise our duty, must give way. An unwilling mind never wants an excuse. Jesus said to him, Follow me; and, no doubt, power went with this word to him as to others; he did follow Christ, and cleaved to him. The scribe said, I will follow thee; to this man Christ said, Follow me; comparing them together, it shows that we are brought to Christ by the force of his call to us, Ro 9:16.And another of his disciples ... - The word "disciple" properly signifies "learner," and was given to the followers of Jesus because they received him as their teacher. See the notes at Matthew 5:1. It does not of necessity mean that a "disciple" was a pious man, but only one of the multitude, who, for various causes, might attend on his instructions. See John 6:66; John 9:28.

Suffer me first to go and bury my father - This seemed to be a reasonable request, as respect for parents, living or dead, is one of the first duties of religion. But the Saviour saw that in his circumstances there might be danger, if he was thus permitted to go, that he would not return to him: and he commanded him, therefore, to perform the more important duty - the duty of attending to the salvation of his soul even at the risk of the apparent neglect of another duty. The first duty of man is religion, and everything else should be made subordinate to that.

20. And Jesus saith unto him, The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head—Few as there were of the scribes who attached themselves to Jesus, it would appear, from his calling Him Teacher, that this one was a "disciple" in that looser sense of the word in which it is applied to the crowds who flocked after Him, with more or less conviction that His claims were well founded. But from the answer which he received we are led to infer that there was more of transient emotion—of temporary impulse—than of intelligent principle in the speech. The preaching of Christ had riveted and charmed him; his heart had swelled; his enthusiasm had been kindled; and in this state of mind he will go anywhere with Him, and feels impelled to tell Him so. "Wilt thou?" replies the Lord Jesus. "Knowest thou whom thou art pledging thyself to follow, and whither haply He may lead thee? No warm home, no downy pillow has He for thee: He has them not for Himself. The foxes are not without their holes, nor do the birds of the air lack their nests; but the Son of man has to depend on the hospitality of others, and borrow the pillow whereon He lays His head." How affecting is this reply! And yet He rejects not this man's offer, nor refuses him the liberty to follow Him. Only He will have him know what he is doing, and "count the cost." He will have him weigh well the real nature and the strength of his attachment, whether it be such as will abide in the day of trial. If so, he will be right welcome, for Christ puts none away. But it seems too plain that in this case that had not been done. And so we have called this the Rash or Precipitate Disciple.

II. The Procrastinating or Entangled Disciple (Mt 8:21, 22).

As this is more fully given in Luke (Lu 9:59), we must take both together. "And He said unto another of His disciples, Follow Me. But he said,"

Lord, suffer me first to go and bury my father. But Jesus said unto him, Follow me; and let the dead bury their dead—or, as more definitely in Luke, "Let the dead bury their dead: but go thou and preach the kingdom of God" (Lu 9:60). This disciple did not, like the former, volunteer his services, but is called by the Lord Jesus, not only to follow, but to preach Him. And he is quite willing; only he is not ready just yet. "Lord, I will; but"—"There is a difficulty in the way just now; but that once removed, I am Thine." What now is this difficulty? Was his father actually dead—lying a corpse—having only to be buried? Impossible. As it was the practice, as noticed on Lu 7:12, to bury on the day of death, it is not very likely that this disciple would have been here at all if his father had just breathed his last; nor would the Lord, if He was there, have hindered him discharging the last duties of a son to a father. No doubt it was the common case of a son having a frail or aged father, not likely to live long, whose head he thinks it his duty to see under the ground ere he goes abroad. "This aged father of mine will soon be removed; and if I might but delay till I see him decently interred, I should then be free to preach the kingdom of God wherever duty might call me." This view of the case will explain the curt reply, "Let the dead bury their dead: but go thou and preach the kingdom of God." Like all the other paradoxical sayings of our Lord, the key to it is the different senses—a higher and a lower—in which the same word "dead" is used: There are two kingdoms of God in existence upon earth; the kingdom of nature, and the kingdom of grace: To the one kingdom all the children of this world, even the most ungodly, are fully alive; to the other, only the children of light: The reigning irreligion consists not in indifference to the common humanities of social life, but to things spiritual and eternal: Fear not, therefore, that your father will in your absence be neglected, and that when he breathes his last there will not be relatives and friends ready enough to do to him the last offices of kindness. Your wish to discharge these yourself is natural, and to be allowed to do it a privilege not lightly to be foregone. But the kingdom of God lies now all neglected and needy: Its more exalted character few discern; to its paramount claims few are alive: and to "preach" it fewer still are qualified and called: But thou art: The Lord therefore hath need of thee: Leave, then, those claims of nature, high though they be, to those who are dead to the still higher claims of the kingdom of grace, which God is now erecting upon earth—Let the dead bury their dead; but go thou and preach the kingdom of God. And so have we here the genuine, but Procrastinating or Entangled Disciple.

The next case is recorded only by Luke:

III. The Irresolute or Wavering Disciple (Lu 9:61, 62).

Lu 9:61:

And another also said, Lord, I will follow thee; but let me first go bid them farewell which are at home at my house.

Lu 9:62:

And Jesus said unto him, No man, having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God. But for the very different replies given, we should hardly have discerned the difference between this and the second case: the one man called, indeed, and the other volunteering, as did the first; but both seemingly alike willing, and only having a difficulty in their way just at that moment. But, by help of what is said respectively to each, we perceive the great difference between the two cases. From the warning given against "looking back," it is evident that this man's discipleship was not yet thorough, his separation from the world not entire. It is not a case of going back, but of looking back; and as there is here a manifest reference to the case of "Lot's wife" (Ge 19:26; and see on [1236]Lu 17:32), we see that it is not actual return to the world that we have here to deal with, but a reluctance to break with it. The figure of putting one's hand to the plough and looking back is an exceedingly vivid one, and to an agricultural people most impressive. As ploughing requires an eye intent on the furrow to be made, and is marred the instant one turns about, so will they come short of salvation who prosecute the work of God with a distracted attention, a divided heart. The reference may be chiefly to ministers; but the application at least is general. As the image seems plainly to have been suggested by the case of Elijah and Elisha, a difficulty may be raised, requiring a moment's attention. When Elijah cast his mantle about Elisha, which the youth quite understood to mean appointing him his successor, he was ploughing with twelve yoke of oxen, the last pair held by himself. Leaving his oxen, he ran after the prophet, and said, "Let me, I pray thee, kiss my father and my mother, and [then] I will follow thee." Was this said in the same spirit with the same speech uttered by our disciple? Let us see. "And Elijah said unto him, Go back again: for what have I done to thee." Commentators take this to mean that Elijah had really done nothing to hinder him from going on with all his ordinary duties. But to us it seems clear that Elijah's intention was to try what manner of spirit the youth was of:—"Kiss thy father and mother? And why not? By all means, go home and stay with them; for what have I done to thee? I did but throw a mantle about thee; but what of that?" If this was his meaning, Elisha thoroughly apprehended and nobly met it. "He returned back from him, and took a yoke of oxen, and slew them, and boiled their flesh with the instruments of the oxen (the wood of his ploughing implements), and gave unto the people, and they did eat: then he arose, and went after Elijah, and ministered unto him" (1Ki 19:19-21). We know not if even his father and mother had time to be called to this hasty feast. But this much is plain, that, though in affluent circumstances, he gave up his lower calling, with all its prospects, for the higher and at that time perilous, office to which he was called. What now is the bearing of these two cases? Did Elisha do wrong in bidding them farewell with whom he was associated in his early calling? Or, if not, would this disciple have done wrong if he had done the same thing, and in the same spirit, with Elisha? Clearly not. Elisha's doing it proved that he could with safety do it; and our Lord's warning is not against bidding them farewell which were at home at his house, but against the probable fatal consequences of that step; lest the embraces of earthly relationship should prove too strong for him, and he should never return to follow Christ. Accordingly, we have called this the Irresolute or Wavering Disciple.

See Poole on "Matthew 8:22". And another of his disciples said unto him,.... That is, one of his disciples; for this does not suppose, that the other, the Scribe before mentioned, was one. It is possible, he might be one of the twelve. The Persic version makes him one of the disciples, whom they call "Hawarion", apostles; and, according to ancient tradition, it was (d) Philip. And certain it is, that he was one, who was called to preach the Gospel; so that he was not a common ordinary disciple; nor could he be one of the seventy disciples, since it was after this, that they were called and sent forth; as appears from Luke's account, Luke 9:60. But who he particularly was, cannot be certainly known, nor is it of any great importance to know it: his address to Christ is made with great respect and reverence, and in a very modest and humble manner,

Lord, suffer me first to go and bury my father: for it seems, according to Luke, that Christ had bid him "follow" him: he had given him a call to be his disciple, and to go and preach the Gospel, which he did not refuse; but desires leave "first" to attend his father's funeral, who was now dead; as his requests, and Christ's answer, both suppose: though some conjecture, that he was only very aged, or was dangerously ill; and therefore it could not be thought he would live long: hence he was desirous of doing this last good office, before he entered on his public work; but these are conjectures, without any foundation: it is plain, his father was dead, and what he requested was, to go home, which perhaps might not be a great way off, and perform the funeral rites, and then return. This may seem very reasonable, since burying the dead was reckoned by the Jews, not only an act of kindness and respect to the deceased, but an act of piety and religion; and in which, men are followers of God, and imitate him, who himself buried the body of Moses (e). And though this man was called to preach the Gospel, yet he might think he would be easily excused for the present, on this account; since, according to the Jewish canons, such whose dead lay before them, who were as yet unburied, were excused reading the Shema, they were free from performing the duty of prayer, and were not obliged to wear their phylacteries (f).

(d) Clement. Alex. Strom. l. 3. p. 436. (e) T. Bab. Bava Metzia, fol. 30. 2. & Sota, fol. 14. 1.((f) Misn. Beracot, c. 3. sect. 1.

{5} And another of his disciples said unto him, Lord, suffer me first to go and bury my father.

(5) When God requires our labour, we must cease all our duty to men.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
Matthew 8:21. Τῶν μαθητῶν] of His disciples, in the more general sense of the words. This is evident from ἕτερος, which (see note on Matthew 8:19) places him whom it represents in the same category with the scribe. According to Luke 9:59, the ἕτερος is not spoken of as μαθητής, and is summoned by Jesus to follow Him, which is to be regarded as an altered form of the tradition.

πρῶτον] in the first place, before I follow thee, Matthew 8:19; Matthew 8:22.

θάψαι] It was, and, to some extent, is still the practice of the Jews, to bury their dead on the very day on which they die, Matthew 9:23, Acts 5:7 f.; and it was the sacred duty of sons to attend to the obsequies of their parents. Genesis 25:9; Tob 4:3; Schoettgen, Horae, on this passage.Matthew 8:21-22. Another disciple. Ἕτερος, another, not only numerically (ἄλλος), but in type. The first was enthusiastic; this one is hesitating, and needs to be urged; a better, more reliable man, though contrasting with his neighbour unfavourably.—τῶν μαθητῶν: the expression seems to imply that the scribe was, or, in spite of the repellent word of Jesus, had become, a regular disciple. That is possible. If the scribe insisted, Jesus might suffer him to become a disciple, as He did Judas, whom doubtless He instinctively saw through from the beginning. But not likely. The inference may be avoided by rendering with Bleek: “another, one of the disciples”.—ἐπίτρεψόν μοι: he wished, before setting out from home to enter on the career of discipleship, to attend to an urgent domestic duty; in fact to bury his father. In that climate burial had to take place on the day of death. Permission would have involved very little delay of the voyage, unless, with Chrysostom, we include under θάψαι all that goes along with death and burial, arranging family affairs, distribution of inheritance, etc. There would not probably be much trouble of that sort in the case of one belonging to the Jesus-circle.21. to go] Rather, to go away, depart.Matthew 8:21. Μαθητῶν, of the disciples) of those, namely, who were not always present.Verse 21. - And another of his (Revised Version, the) disciples said unto him. Disciples in the wider sense (Matthew 5:1, note),whether the twelve had or had not been chosen. In the latter case, the man may have been Thomas (Trench, loc. cit.), but hardly Philip (Clem. Alex.) after John 1:43. Yet it is precarious to see in him the despondency of Thomas (John 11:6; John 20:24, 25) merely because his father is dead, and he has scruples about immediately following Christ. Lord, suffer me first. The man's words imply a consciousness of a call. His heart told him that he ought to go, but he asks for a delay, and, in fact, a real difficulty seems to hinder him from going. St. Luke places the Lord's "Follow me" before the man's request; but here, as in textual criticism, proclivi scriptioni praestat ardua. To go and bury my father. Then lying dead. Of all filial duties perhaps the most bind-ins (cf. Tobit 4:3 Tobit 14:10, 11). Observe

(1) that the burial would take place much sooner than is usual with us, and would seldom be more than twenty-four hours after death;

(2) that, however, according to Jewish law, the ceremonial observances connected with the burial and consequent purifications would have taken many days (Edersheim, 'Life,' 2:133).
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