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Δευτέρα, 20 Ιανουαρίου 2014

“Let the Dead Bury the Dead.”

   
Now when Jesus saw great crowds around Him, he gave orders to go over to the other side. A scribe then approached him and said, ‘Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.’ Another of his disciples said to Him, ‘Lord first let me go any bury my father.’ But Jesus said to him, ‘Follow me and let the dead bury their own dead…” (Matthew 8:18-22)


In my early years at the seminary I found Matthew 8:22 quite troublesome and not a little disconcerting. I see the same reaction from parishioners when I read this passage during the Holy Unction service on Holy Wednesday. Eyes lighten and ears perk up as the provocative passage rolls off my lips: “Let the dead bury the dead”

At first sight these words appear harsh and perhaps even cruel. What did our Lord mean by these words that seem to contradict the honor we are told to show our parents by the Mosiac Law? The Jews felt it a sacred duty to ensure a decent burial for a dead parent.

Firstly, it will help us to remember that Jesus spoke in the Aramaic dialect used in biblical Palestine at the time. Secondly, while all the rest of the New Testament books were written in Greek, Matthew first wrote his gospel in Aramaic. He either translated it into Greek or it was translated into Greek at a later date. However, today we have only the Greek translation from the Aramaic text. Therefore, in order to interpret this difficult verse, we must learn how the Jews of biblical times used the phrase: “I must bury my father.”

The following story, related by William Barclay, an eminent Bible commentator, helps to explain. According to the story, a Syrian Missionary invited a young Palestinian to make an extensive visit to Europe. The Palestinian said, “First I must bury my father.”

The missionary expressed his sorrow and sympathy that his father had died. The young Palestinian answered that his father had not died! He was still very much alive and in good health. What he meant was that he had parental obligations and family duties to fulfill before he could leave and go on the tour. In fact, he might not be able to go until after his father’s death. “First I must bury my father” because an idiom that basically meant, “Someday when I am free from family responsibilities, I will follow you.” Knowing what we know of family responsibilities, this time might never come.

This is no doubt what the man in the gospel incident meant. He was putting off following Jesus for many years to come, or perhaps a lifetime, and using his ties to family as an excuse. Jesus was wise. He knew the human heart. He knew well that if the man did not follow Him then, at that moment, he might never follow Him. And so He answered, “Let the dead bury the dead.”

Again and again there come to us moments that require immediate actions. The tragedy of life is so often the tragedy of such un-seized moments. In the best of us there is lethargy and inertia, indecision and procrastination.

The Bible is replete with men, women and children who accepted God’s challenge and invitation: from the time of Abraham, David and the prophets to John the Baptist, Andrew and Saul (who became Paul). In each instance God embraced them with love, fortified them with power and surrounded them with angels. God will do no less for us, but He expects us to respond now, not tomorrow. This is the message Jesus conveys to us in Matthew 8:22, eloquently, succinctly and clearly: to put away excuses and follow Him. “Let the dead bury the dead!”

—✝Fr. George Nicozisin

source : ST. NICHOLAS
MONTHLY BULLETIN
ST. NICHOLAS GREEK ORTHODOX CHURCH
4967 FOREST PARK AVENUE
ST. LOUIS, MO 63108 -1495

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