He [Jesus] said to another man, “Follow me.” But he replied, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” (Luke 9:59)Jesus' statement is clear. Jesus has asked someone to follow him and that person felt they needed to attend to the funeral of their father first. So Jesus is telling him to leave the funeral to the "dead" and instead "proclaim the kingdom of God."
What about the family? What about burials?But wait, isn't the family important in Christianity? And aren't burials important to church institutions? Many churches even have graveyards as part of their institution, and priests who claim to follow Jesus will typically preside over burials.
These rituals, in fact, illustrate how far these institutions have wandered from Jesus' teachings. Instead of embracing Jesus' teachings as Jesus' followers, these institutions have embraced the very elements that Jesus asked his students to de-emphasize in their lives.
Why would Jesus instruct a potential follower not to attend his own father's funeral?
In fact, "honor your mother and your father" (Exodus 20:12) is one of the Commandments of Moses. So what is going on? Why is Jesus telling this potential follower not to attend his father's funeral?
At issue is the nature of the physical body with respect to our identity and the importance of our spiritual life.
“Let the dead bury their own dead" is a metaphorical homonym comparing a dead physical body with a dead spiritual life.
Jesus taught that we are not the physical body
The physical body is only alive when it is animated by the spirit-person - the spiritual self that is not perceivable by the gross physical senses. When this spirit-person leaves the physical body the body dies. It is lifeless.
This means that we are not these physical bodies. They are temporary vehicles we occupy for a while. Then they die. (Learn the science of who we are.)
But those who are enamored by the physical world - those of us who identify ourselves with our physical body - will mourn the death of a family member. What we are not seeing is that the person has not died. They have simply left their physical body.
Thus to attend the funeral of the father is not related to Moses' commandment, because that person whom we should respect for raising us and taking care of us as children is gone. Their lifeless physical body may remain, but the person is gone.
Thus, Jesus is classifying those who mourn the death of the physical body as "dead" because they are incorrectly identifying the spiritual self with the physical body. They are "dead" because they are not seeing that the spirit-person has simply moved on. And they are "dead" because they are not focused upon their relationship with their real Father - the Supreme Being.
In other words, they are spiritually "dead."
This statement, in fact, is testimony that Jesus himself taught about our identity as spirit, not the physical body. Other statements confirm this, such as:
"And don’t fear those who can kill the body but are unable to kill the soul." (Matthew 10:28)
"Watch out and pray that you will not be tempted – for the spirit may be willing but the physical body is weak." (Matt. 26:41 and Mark 14:38)
“For this reason I say to you, don’t be anxious about your life, as to what you will eat or what you will drink; nor for your body and what you will wear. Is not the soul more than food, and the body more than clothing?" (Matt. 6:25)
"It is spirit that gives life; the physical body provides no benefit." (John 6:63)
"That which arises from the flesh is flesh, and that which arises from the Spirit is spirit." (John 3:6)
"But when you see your true self that existed before your body, which never dies nor becomes visible, how can you rely on it?” (Gospel of Thomas 84:2)
"For my mother bore my body, yet my True Mother gave me life.” (Gospel of Thomas 101:3)
“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear." (Luke 12:22)
In the last statement, if we single out the phrase "or about your body," we get:
“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your body"
Jesus is telling his students not to worry about their bodies because we are not these bodies. Our body is a temporary vehicle.
Meanwhile, Jesus has a mission to do. He is teaching others about the Supreme Being. He is guiding others by educating them about God. And on the scale of importance, this takes precedence over mourning over a lifeless body.
But is Jesus necessarily telling the student to immediately go out and begin preaching, even though he hasn't been following Jesus yet? (As Jesus has just asked him to "follow me.")
Both of these words, "preach" (KJV) or "proclaim" (NIV) come from the Greek word διαγγέλλω (diaggellō), which means, according to Strong's lexicon:
1) to carry a message through, announce everywhere, through places, through assemblies of men etc.
2) to publish abroad, declare
Would Jesus be sending out a brand new follower to preach - before he began hearing from Jesus and learning his teachings?
This interpretation - to preach - actually contradicts Jesus' first statement, "follow me." (Luke 9:59) He can't go out and preach if he hasn't followed Jesus yet. He must become Jesus' student and learn from Jesus before he is ready to preach.
So yes, we can certainly interpret this to mean Jesus wants him to go out preaching, but there is a more appropriate translation and interpretation of this statement - given the circumstances:
Jesus encouraged him to glorify God
The reality is that Jesus wants the student to glorify the Supreme Being. To "proclaim the kingdom of God" doesn't just mean preaching to others. It means to praise the Supreme Being. It means to glorify Him and glorify His Holy Name.
Preaching is also glorifying God: but simply in the role of a teacher.
The fact is, sectarian institutions and their teachers and translators have completely missed this part of Jesus' teachings. He wanted those around him to glorify God and praise God's Name.
This is evidenced by how Jesus wanted his students to say about him:
"Look, your house is left to you desolate. I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.'" (Luke 13:35)And why, after practically every miracle Jesus performed, do we find people praising God:
When the crowd saw this, they were filled with awe; and they praised God... (Matt. 9:8)
The people were amazed when they saw the mute speaking, the crippled made well, the lame walking and the blind seeing. And they praised the God of Israel. (Matt. 15:31)
He got up, took his mat and walked out in full view of them all. This amazed everyone and they praised God... (Mark 2:12)
Simeon took him in his arms and praised God... (Luke 2:28)
They were all filled with awe and praised God. “A great prophet has appeared among us,” they said. “God has come to help his people.” (Luke 7:16)
Then he put his hands on her, and immediately she straightened up and praised God. (Luke 13:13)
Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus, praising God. When all the people saw it, they also praised God. (Luke 18:43)
The centurion, seeing what had happened, praised God... (Luke 23:47)And with these verses, we discover the real purpose of so many of Jesus' activities, such as performing miracles. He wanted those around him to praise God!
We also see that Jesus' disciples followed this instruction of Jesus (hidden from view by sectarian institutions and their teachers), after he left his students:
And they stayed continually at the temple, praising God. (Luke 24:53)This act of praising God was also taught by David - whom Jesus followed and quoted often:
Let the Name of the LORD be praised, both now and forevermore. (Psalms 113:2)
From the rising of the sun to the place where it sets, the Name of the LORD is to be praised. (Psalms 113:3)From these verses and many others, we find that Jesus indeed was teaching his students to praise God - to glorify the Supreme Being. This also meant as David stresses, glorifying God's Holy Name.
Actually, we find this teaching throughout the Books of the Bible. Why? Because this is a universal teaching of any bona fide representative of the Supreme Being.
As this statement and all these verses clearly indicate, praising the Supreme Being and glorifying His Holy Names is the pathway to returning to our relationship with the Supreme Being. And what is the nature of that relationship? Jesus emphasized this:
“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment." (Matt. 22:37-38)And what does a person do if they love someone? Naturally, they praise them. They glorify them. Hence, we find that praising and glorifying God and His Holy Names is not only a key element of the devotional path, but it also symptomizes the ultimate accomplishment of that path: Love for God.