The authority of Jesus
Now when Jesus saw a crowd around him, he gave orders to go over to the other side. And a scribe came up and said to him, “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 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 8:18–22 ESVUK
It always makes me think when two contradictory things are said by Jesus and they are reported by the evangelists next to each other. This is what Matthew does here, and it is deliberate, there to make you think. To two followers Jesus tries to put one off from following and gives the other a telling off for reluctance to follow.
But I can’t really answer. Sermons I’ve heard and read tend to treat them as separate topics. To the first, the answer is to count the cost of being a disciple and to the other Jesus demands all or nothing. Puzzling. Also, this is not in a teaching part of Matthew’s Gospel, it is in a narrative where Jesus is showing his power and authority by performing miracles and also calling people, most of who would be on the edges of Jewish society. We have had the teaching about how difficult following Jesus is in Chapter 7:13–14, but this is a narrative section, something else is happening here, in a narrative section showing Jesus performing miracles.
The miracles in these two chapters have to be the key to understanding what is going on here.
Jesus is getting popular because of the miracles so he makes plans to cross the lake, before he can go he is interrupted by a scribe. The scribes were interesting people. There was no distinction between civil law and religious law in the first century, they had knowledge of the law and could draft legal documents (contracts for marriage, divorce, loans, inheritance, mortgages, the sale of land, and the like). (Source: Britannica.com.)
The scribe was attracted to Jesus by the act. Jesus response is similar to his reply to those who had seen the feeding of 5,000 and wanted to see similar miracles. “I want to see more of the miracles, I want the good stuff,” was the thought and the reply from Jesus is, “OK. But you have to go through the bad times to get at the good stuff.”
There is a Christian song that starts “Here I am wholly available.” I often think that some are meaning, “Here I am partly available.” That is the common thread here the scribe is not prepared for the hard road, The unnamed disciple who wishes to bury his father—who may not be dead yet, the disciple wants to wait until his father has died before following—is also only partly committed. Jesus accepts those who come to him, there is no lack of acceptance by Jesus here, but he wants our commitment to him to grow, tho get deeper, stronger.
The question of who is Jesus is posed here, who can see into the motivation of people’s hearts? The answer is King Jesus who asks us lovingly for our loyalty to him and his kingdom, but who also accepts our decision if we turn out backs and walk away.
Are you prepared to turn your back on a king such as Jesus, or will you pray, “Lord Jesus, take me deeper into your kingdom, into your love, whatever it takes.”
Will you take that risk?