Another of the disciples said to Him, “Lord, permit me first to go and bury my father.” But Jesus said to Him, “Follow Me, and allow the dead to bury their own dead” (Matt. 8:21-22).
There are times when we need to have an understanding of the Hebrew or Greek in order to properly interpret Scripture (especially the statement just quoted). However, there are times when the original languages don’t shed much light. When that happens, we can consult – among other things – figures of speech that were well-known among those who heard the statement originally.
Barbara Bowen writes:
This answer appears to us very harsh and unsympathetic. We see in our mind a young man grieving for a dead father and wishing naturally to remain near him, and Jesus calls him, and the young man refuses the call.
The Palestinian understands this as being nothing in the world but an excuse, and an exceedingly common one in that country. No doubt the father was perfectly well and strong, but the son did not want to follow Christ, and as was the common custom, he answered, “No, I cannot, my father is dead and I must bury him.”
If you ask some natives even today to do anything they do not want to do, they will not answer that they do not feel well, or haven’t the time, but they will instantly say to you, “No, I cannot, my father is dead.” (Strange Scriptures That Perplex the Western Mind, p. 20).
Another source says this figure of speech can also mean, “Let me wait until I receive my inheritance.” Either way, Jesus knew the man’s answer to His call was an excuse – nothing more – and He answered accordingly.
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