PASSAGE: "Another of his disciples said to him, 'Lord, first let me go and bury my father.' But Jesus said to him, 'Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead'" (Matthew 8:21-22).
COMMENT: This seemingly harsh and abrupt statement (which is also recorded in Luke 9:59-60) has long been a subject of controversy. (Interestingly, the Jesus Seminar believes it to be an authentic Jesus statement, precisely because it is such a shock to traditional belief and behavior.)
According to Jewish burial customs at the time, the body was immediately sealed in a tomb; there was an immediate seven-day period of intense mourning, followed by a month of continued observance. After about a year, when the flesh had fallen away, the bones were placed in an ossuary and re-entombed. So the disciple asking leave to bury his father could have been anywhere in this process, since the full burial was not considered complete until the year had passed. According to this interpretation, Jesus was suggesting that the would-be disciple was using the extended process as an excuse to avoid making changes in his life.
I think there may be more to it than that. I think perhaps what Jesus is saying is “Let the spiritually dead bury the physically dead.” The very belief in the finality of death is a spiritually limiting energy. When we awaken to our eternal spiritual life, the significance of a physical death fades away. So Jesus is suggesting that those who still believe in the reality of death can deal with its dramas and effects. For those who have awakened to their true spiritual identity, their Oneness with the infinite Power of God, following Jesus—following where that spiritual awareness takes them—is much more important than the trappings and drama of death could ever be.