“Another of the disciples said to him, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” And Jesus said to him, “Follow me, and leave the dead to bury their own dead.” Matthew 8:21-22
This hard saying of Jesus addresses our priorities and makes us consider our attachments to people and things. The request of the unnamed disciple actually seems quite reasonable. It could be argued that he was simply working out the biblical command to honour father and mother. In Jesus’ day, the duty to bury one’s relatives had become so important that it took precedence over all other religious commandments, so this saying of Jesus is even more striking.
As with several other statements of Jesus, hyperbole is used to make a point, but this saying was recorded to underline the fact that discipleship is meant to be radical – it requires that we are flexible in our attachment to things as they stand.
When God calls us to embark on a particular course we can usually find a good reason to be otherwise occupied. God may require us to embark on an actual journey or it might involve a new departure, a new venture. Whatever the call, a flexible attitude is needed; it also requires us to create those spaces of prayerful attentiveness, listening to the Holy Spirit so that God can redirect us. The combination of attentiveness plus freedom from attachments is key to effective discipleship.
John Wesley’s Covenant Prayer says it all: “‘I am no longer my own, but Yours. Put me to what you will, rank me with whom you will. Put me to doing, put me to suffering. Let me be employed for You or laid aside for You, exalted for You or brought low for You. Let me be full, let me be empty. Let me have all things, let me have nothing. I freely and heartily yield all things to your pleasure and disposal. And now, O glorious and blessed God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, You are mine, and I am yours. So be it. And the covenant which I have made on earth, let it be ratified in heaven. Amen”
Attaining freedom from attachments is often a very gradual process, completed over many years. This process is aided hugely by having a rhythm of prayer, which constantly redirects our gaze Godward and allows him to bring about the necessary changes in our lives.
It is important to remember that God goes before us and is working in people’s lives before any encounter we might have with them. All mission is really God’s mission. We are called to join him in what he is already doing. Even Jesus said that he can do nothing by himself; only what he sees the Father doing (John 5:19). When we believe that God is already working in the world, already fulfilling his mission, our task is then to keep in step with the Spirit.
Understanding these principles will be even more important as we get closer to the last seven years (the last week of Daniel’s 70 weeks prophecy given by the Angel Gabriel)
“Seventy weeks are decreed about your people and your holy city, to finish the transgression, to put an end to sin, and to atone for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal both vision and prophet, and to anoint a most holy place. Know therefore and understand that from the going out of the word to restore and build Jerusalem to the coming of an anointed one, a prince, there shall be seven weeks. Then for sixty-two weeks, it shall be built again with squares and moat, but in a troubled time. And after the sixty-two weeks, an anointed one shall be cut off and shall have nothing. And the people of the prince who is to come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary. Its end shall come with a flood, and to the end, there shall be war. Desolations are decreed. And he shall make a strong covenant with many for one week, and for half of the week, he shall put an end to sacrifice and offering. And on the wing of abominations shall come one who makes desolate, until the decreed end is poured out on the desolator.” Daniel 9:24-27
What an amazing prophecy. Concerning the prophecies given to Daniel, he was told “Go your way, Daniel, for the words are shut up and sealed until the time of the end.” Now we are living in those days, we can see that the book of Revelation unpacks much of what Daniel was told would happen in the last days before Jesus returns to restore righteousness and rule and reign with the Saints for the prophesied Jesus’ Millennial Kingdom on this earth.
“They came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended. This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy is the one who shares in the first resurrection! Over such the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ, and they will reign with him for a thousand years.” Revelation 20:4-6